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Oh, no! Exit fat, French fries, sugar, salt & gravy . . .

On a recent Sunday morning I unrolled my home-delivered plastic-bagged copy of the San Antonio Express-News, the only daily newspaper in the seventh largest city in America, with a potential audience of some two million readers. Prominent on the front page was an article announcing planned changes in menus of military dining halls, specifically at Fort Sam Houston, Texas but eventually in military dining halls world-wide. Click on the image below to read the front-page portion of the article.

As a retired military person I can appreciate and accept all the changes except one. I do not mourn the loss of fat, French fries, sugar and salt and I welcome whatever substitutes replace those items, but gravy? GRAVY? Not gravy, please dear Lord don’t let them outlaw gravy. Without gravy there will be no SOS, a dish that is embraced emotionally and gastronomically by everyone that has ever served in any of the United States military forces. SOS is primarily a breakfast entree—gravy with chipped beef, hamburger meat or sausage added, and usually served as a stand-alone spread on toast or biscuits with various other items added if desired—bacon or sausage, perhaps, or eggs cooked to order, or pancakes or all the above.

Those in the stratospheric zones of the military hierarchy—commissioned officers and their families—usually refer to SOS as creamed chipped beef on toast, or creamed hamburger on toast, or creamed sausage on toast—creamed is simply a euphemism for gravy. However, the unwashed hordes in the military services, the enlisted population including NCOs (Non-Commissioned Officers) are comprised of those always willing to call a spade a spade—oops, delete that phrase—it is so not politically correct—make the phrase willing to tell it like it is instead. That elite group of military persons refer to the breakfast delicacy as Shit On a Shingle, with the toast being the shingle and meat gravy the shit, thusly SOS. As a side note, that culinary masterpiece known as SOS is also called Stew On a Shingle and Same Old Stuff. The words may be different, but the visual appearance and taste of the mixture are the same.

Please say it ain’t so, Barack!

Please say it ain’t so, Michelle!

Please don’t do away with gravy—that will sound the death knell for SOS, a breakfast choice for untold millions of men and women in America’s armed forces, in peace and war in virtually every country on the planet, a breakfast delicacy that has been around since long before World War II, and in my opinion helped the United States win its wars—with the exceptions of Korea and Viet Nam and possibly Iraq and Afghanistan, wars that are still unfolding. Although we are claiming the war in Iraq to be a victory, it will probably be rated as a failure in future history books, as will Afghanistan—that is purely my opinion, and I freely admit that opinion is similar to a certain body orifice, the operation of which is controlled by the sphincter muscle—everybody has one, and that’s mine.

Please don’t throw SOS under the bus, Mr. and Mrs. Obama. I believe in change just as much as anyone, including battle-hardened Democrats, but I draw the line on the elimination of SOS from military dining halls. As a home-care giver for many years, I have been a frequent morning visitor to San Antonio’s Brooke Army Medical Center and to Lackland’s Wilford Hall Medical Center, and although I have lost my reason for being a home-care giver, I will continue to use both entities for my own medical care, and you may be assured that I will, at every opportunity, enjoy an SOS breakfast in the hospital cafeterias as long as it is served.

And you may also be assured that if SOS is dropped from their breakfast menus I will look elsewhere for SOS and give my business to those other locations, including such ubiquitous outlets as Whataburger and the myriad Jim’s Restaurants in San Antonio, both of which proudly serve sausage gravy on biscuits for breakfast.

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

Postscript: In my outcry against the demise of SOS I used the term eggs cooked to order, and I must tell my readers that in the hospital cafeteria at San Antonio’s Brooke Army Medical Center you can in fact have your eggs cooked to order, except you cannot have soft-scrambled eggs, eggs over-easy, eggs over-medium or eggs sunny-side up. You can only have them hard scrambled, fried hard on both sides, scrambled hard in an omelet or hard-boiled. The rules are in place to prevent salmonella.

But listen up, and I’ll whisper this in your ear: Go to the hospital cafeteria at Lackland’s Wilford Hall Medical Center and you can get your eggs made to order. Just tell the cook what you want and you’ll get it, up to and including fresh eggs cracked in a bowl and served raw, as many as you want and none having been anywhere near flames or heat, usually ordered by those trying to bulk-up for competition in such sports as wrestling and boxing and, of course, for those that just enjoy flexing their muscles for the opposite sex, and in some instances for the same sex.

Hey, it happens—at my age I don’t flex and I never have, couldn’t even if I tried because I never ate raw eggs, but even at my age I still get flexed at—not all that often, but once in awhile. I believe some men follow the advice contained in a song my brother used to sing, namely that, If you can’t get a woman, get a clean old man.

That’s the end of my story and my postscript and I’m sticking to both.

 

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Cleavage: Harris Faulkner, Lauren Sanchez, breasts, dancer, etc . . .

A Voice Crying in the Wilderness

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God—Isaiah 40: 1-3 , King James version.

I’m offering a second and third video of Harris exposed for my readers to review and evaluate. My intent is not to appeal to nor to appease the baser instincts of my viewers, even given the improbability that any such base instincts exist among the throngs that will gravitate to this posting. I only mean to show that the exposures are frequent and nicely composed.

What follows is a voice that crieth in the wilderness, my voice, an adaptation and an interpretation of a passage in the King James version of the Holy Bible, Isaiah 40: 1-3, presented at the beginning of this writing, an effort that I consider is somewhere between an essay and a treatise. This post was prompted by the nature of the clothing worn by a certain statuesque Fox News employee, namely Harris Faulkner, a lovely and tremendously talented lady.

As the voice of the crier that crieth, I crieth on Word Press in an attempt—admittedly a vain attempt—to slow a process that if unchecked could result in our news being nudged towards requiring news readers to perform in the nude, first female newscasters but eventually, inevitably, male newscasters. And come on, do we really want to see a nude Ed Shultz of MSNBC fame haranguing us on his nightly gig, regardless of his state of undress?

Not I! And from that position I offer my adaptation of a passage in the King James version of the Holy Bible:

A Voice Crying in the Wilderness

Comfort her, comfort her, saith I. Speak ye comfortably to Harris Faulkner, and cry unto her that her mission is accomplished. She hath lighted her candle and placed it, not under a bushel, but brightly shining from atop the candlestick of Fox News and lo, that light hath been perceived by the network’s many followers.

Harris needeth not longer to reveal that which should be kept hidden under a bushel, at least hidden well enough to leave something for the imagination. She hath received considerably more than the average woman in a certain locale of her topography and lo, the beauty and bounty of that area hath been adequately demonstrated, and hath been perceived by the multitudes, and appreciation hath been expressed adequately—nay, mightily—by the wielders of the studio cameras and by the beasts of the television field.

This is pure speculation on my part, but I suspect that Harris hath additional visual stimulants to offer the multitudes of those that appreciate such stimulation—nay, lust for such stimulation—but current restrictions forbid further the casting aside of the remnants of her raiment, whether top or bottom or both. A pity, perhaps, in the minds of many, but many would be pleased because television, sadly, is sliding slip-shod and slovenly down a slippery slobbery salivating slope, and at this point I confess that alliteration is and always has been my first love in language—well, at least it is one of my dearest loves.

What’s does this portend for our future television fare? The weather girl, perhaps, stripping and performing a pole dance, slithering around and up and down the pole to demonstrate how a tornado is formed? Put that one on television and see how many Internet hits the video records.

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

Postscript: I’m adding a related video of another newsreader, just to show that Harris Faulkner is not alone. Lauren Sanchez is an anchor on MY13 news at KTTV FOX-11 in Los Angeles, CA. I selected this dance-themed video because it closely mirrors Lauren Sanchez’ attire when she deliveries her news commentaries—enjoy! Oops, I meant to suggest that the video should be viewed in light of the ever-increasing deterioration of our hallowed values—yeah, right!

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2011 in Humor, news sources, television, Writing

 

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Battling e-mails . . .

Battling e-mails . . .

For some time I have considered posting this series of e-mails but I have held the posting in abeyance until now. I doubt that many viewers will hang on long enough to finish reading it, but that will be their loss. It seemed to me in the past that a rift had been created between me and the finest neighbor and friend one could ever wish for, and through no fault of either of us. Nevertheless, it appeared to exist—now it seems to have gone away, or perhaps never was.

These are the e-mails that passed between me and my neighbor lady to the west, posted as transmitted and as received. My e-mails are in standard type and hers are in italics.

Feb 3, 2010:

Good morning, Sherlock Holmes here:

I’m currently conducting an investigation to determine why and how my daily copy of the Express-News is mysteriously appearing on my front step, neatly placed there by someone or something to be determined. It was there this morning at an early hour. Today is the second time the phenomenon has occurred in as many weeks, and we had rain on both days.

My first thought was that the paper carrier wanted to ensure that the paper stayed dry, but it was double-bagged and would have to be submerged before it could suffer any damage. Besides, I have not remitted a gratuity to the carrier since 2007 and cannot reasonably expect her to be so obliging. Unless, of course, she is buttering me up for the coming Christmas season. I suppose that could be it, but I have serious doubts.

I next considered the possibility that Rudy, the cat that lives with the family across the street, is picking the paper up with his teeth and placing it in a dry spot, hoping for a continuation of the chicken and salmon handouts.

That is not likely, because he was nowhere in sight when I picked up the paper either time. He did not show at all on the first day, and as of the time of this writing I have not seen him today. That reduces the probability that he is doing the good deed. I suppose Ralph, the cat that resides with my neighbor to the west, could harbor the same thoughts, but I would think that Rudy would be more likely.

There is a third possibility, one a teeny bit more plausible than the first two. Two weeks ago I stepped out on my stoop, looked very carefully in all directions, except to the rear because no danger lurked in that direction. The coast was clear (so to speak), so I ambled out toward the mailbox (the paper was in proximity to said letter receptacle). Wearing a bright green fuzzy housecoat and brown house shoes, I arrived at my destination and bent over to pick up my paper, and at that instant I heard someone say, very audibly and gleefully, “I wish I had a camera!”

As to whether my ensemble included pajamas, it did not. A pair of skinny white legs were in full view. Well, not in full view, just up to mid-tibia. Said legs were supported by a matching pair of skinny white feet, ensconced in brown leather house shoes.

So the third possibility is that the person that voiced that wish, not wishing to be faced with that apparition again, is defending himself by placing the paper on my stoop, thereby keeping me out of sight in the process of retrieving my paper.

This is a very serious investigation, and I would be grateful for any and all assistance.

Feb 3, 2010

WHAT???? Your paper doesn’t get wet??? Our paper gets soaked. Now that I think about it, the water probably runs down the driveway right into the bag. Well, I don’t think you need to worry about your paper phenomenon any longer. Do let me know if the culprit starts hiding the paper, though. That would definitely require a more thorough investigation.

Kathy

At this point a three-day quiet ensues with no e-mails between me and my neighbor. I was very busy running between home and the hospital and I neglected to read and respond to my e-mails.

Feb 6, 2010

It has been eerily quiet over there. Did my response offend you? You are very funny and clever in your writings. When I try that tactic, it usually backfires, since I am neither funny nor clever. I did put your paper on your porch because I thought it was getting soaked like ours often does. Your white legs had nothing to do with it! Now that I know your paper does not get wet, I’ll leave it there. You are free to retrieve it in whatever attire you choose. I often retrieve our paper in my robe. So, let’s just agree to leave our cameras out of this.

Kathy

P.S. You are a very good writer, a trait that obviously not everyone has. I hope you decide to continue writing your memoirs for a potential book. I’d definitely buy one, but I would want it autographed.

Feb 7, 2010

Hi, Kathy,

I read your e-mail at 2:30 this morning (I had a brief sleep last night —up at 2:01). Nothing new there, of course—my sleep is brief on most nights.

A hundred mea culpas!

No, make that a thousand mea culpas because there is nothing you, Kevin or Ralph could do to offend me, and had you and Kevin and Ralph not banished the girls to another exotic location, there is nothing they could do to offend me. Even if you, Kevin, Ralph, the banished iguanas and your extended family banded together in a concerted effort to offend me, I would not be offended. The only way you could possibly come close to offending me would be to take me and my babbling seriously—life is simply too short for me to be serious—besides, it’s not in my nature!

I had the best of intentions to answer your previous two e-mails, the one on Victor Borge’s video that Cindy posted, and the one in which you asked me to let you know “if the culprit starts hiding the paper.” Of course, as the saying goes, “The road to (fill in the blank) is paved with good intentions.”

Unfortunately, recent events got in the way and I delayed my responses (actually, that means I forgot to respond). We’ve had an unusually busy week, and things are not going as well as we would like. Yesterday especially was not a good day, but things seem to have leveled off. I believe—I hope and I pray—that the worst is over.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa! I found that phrase on Wikipedia— I am greviously at fault, and as an apology Wikipedia said it far better than I could.

I have no knowledge of how or why or when your Sunday paper was placed neatly just outside your door this morning, placed at a right angle to the street (I just pray that the picker-upper doesn’t trip over it). Also if I were forced to guess, I would guess that it was placed by some nut wearing a bright green robe, etc., etc. I would also hazard a guess that the deed was accomplished somewhere around 6:00 AM (Central Time).

March 2, 2010:

A card from Kathy, delivered by the US Postal Service although our mailboxes are approximately sixty feet apart:

Dear green-robed phantom and your pink-robed wife:

Thank you so much for the delicious edible arrangement! That was quite a surprise. The other big surprise is that you used 4 exclamation points after “Happy Birthday.” I was so perplexed that I questioned Kevin, “Do we know any other green and pink-robed couples?”

I hope you know that your presence as our neighbors is truly a real gift. Any more than that is really not necessary. Thank you, though. That was very kind!

Your (one year older) neighbor,

Kathy

March 3, 2010

Dear One Year Older Neighbor,

Thanks for the card and for the kind thoughts, especially the thought that you consider our presence as your neighbors to be a real gift. I wish I had said it first but I didn’t, so I’ll just bounce it right back at you. Regarding our presence as neighbors, As ours is to you, so yours is to us.

On the subject of exclamation points, I have given up. You know that in a dog fight the vanquished dog, rather than running, may simply end the fight by lying on his back, thereby giving the victor access to his underbelly, his most vulnerable area—it is a sign of surrender.

I’m not going to that extreme, but I have surrendered. I have given up on my quest to eliminate, or even to reduce, exclamation points. I realize that the practice is too well entrenched, so I’ve decided that if I can’t beat ‘em, I’ll join ‘em! And I enjoy it—it’s fun!

I just took a closer look at the sentence that says “As ours is to you, so yours is to us.” When viewed out of context it seems to take on some profound meaning, similar to a Tibetan monk’s summary of life or some other chant.

Try it. Read it aloud several times. Look real solemn and speak in a deep tone. You’ll find that it takes on mystic properties. I think I may have created something. I should probably copyright it!

March 4, 2010:

You are so funny!! I wish the Express-News would replace that Marcie Meffert (Elders Express) in the S.A. Life with your writing. I’m not sure what the “elders” is for, and I’m not implying anything concerning your age here. I think she writes for the group of readers who would also qualify for AARP membership, older folks fifty-ish plus. I have only read her articles a few times, but I have yet to read one that I like. She tries to tell stories about her life, and I think she is trying to be humorous. She seems to be lacking the charm that you seem to have captured. You are a far superior writer, and way funnier! This “Dear Neighbor” writing had me LOL today! I agree on the mystic properties—copyright it!

Kathy

March 5, 2010:

Those are some really kind words. Ain’t nobody that good, but you finally convinced me! Normally I would be delighted to replace the Meffert lady, but I have such distaste for the Express-News that I would be unwilling to have my name associated with it. I fought a running battle last year with Bob Richter, the editor for Letters to the Editor—dueling e-mails, if you will, and I won—he apologized for his lapse in judgment. He had asked for permission to print my letter, saying that he liked it but would omit my “whining” about the paper. I refused to authorize its publication.

I no longer strive to have my thoughts printed in Your Turn of the Metro section of the Express-News—my gain, the public’s loss. However, I sometimes throw rocks at the paper by posting items that I did not submit for publication, then I bad-mouth the Express-News on Word Press by claiming that my submission was rejected. Sneaky, huh?

Kathy, it really is a small world—we were neighbors to the Meffert family for several years in the latter part of the 1960s, with only one house between us, in what was then a decent lower-middle-class neighborhood near Lackland Air Force Base. It’s now a shambles, a nightmare with gang activity everywhere, gunshots frequently heard both day and night, lots of graffiti, chain-link-fenced front yards and junked cars behind them. The fences are not to keep the kids in—they’re there to keep the dogs out and to slow down burglars laden with items purloined from the houses.

Marcie had five children, two girls and three boys, their ages ranging from one year up to nine years—a very fertile lady, that one! Her husband was a surgical dentist in Lackland’s dental service, and attended me through a long series of dental procedures required by my failure to pay proper attention to dental matters. I was a smoker at the time—he said he did not smoke, and frequently lectured me on the evils of tobacco, then on almost every visit apologetically bummed a cigarette from me.

We were never close friends with the parents. We waved at them when appropriate, and Marcie and Janie often stood outside to discuss whatever women discuss—their children, I would suspect—Marcie was usually out looking for her children. As best as I can remember, neither family ever entered the other family’s house, probably because neither family ever invited the other family in. However, we came to know her children well. She put them out to graze each morning and called them back in for lunch and dinner, leaving the neighbors to look out for the kids. They were well behaved—the older girl was Cindy’s best friend, and she spent lots of time in our home.

All five children received good educations and seemed to fare well following graduation. Cindy’s best friend Lisa died several months ago—her obituary in the Express-News said only that she died suddenly. The obituary included her siblings’ names, marital status and their whereabouts. Their various professions were impressive—two colonels in the military, two doctors and one biology professor. I am of the opinion that their early association with our girls gave them the necessary head start to put them on the way to success—then again, maybe not.

When we returned to San Antonio in 1987, Marcie was the mayor of Leon Valley and wrote a column on city activities. I believe the Elders Express gig came after she was no longer the mayor. We have never made any effort to contact her to talk about old times. Lacking any strong desire to relive history with Marcie, we have been content to read her columns. Those columns, along with her daughter’s obituary, comprise our knowledge of her and her family.

But it is a small world, wouldn’t you agree?

March 5, 2010:

Agreed—a very small world sometimes! I hope that my observations of her writings weren’t too unkind. I just think that you would be a much better writer for that spot in the paper. Well, as long as I’m wishing, you’d make a far better editor to the Letters to the Editor too, but let’s not even go there!

I see that you and Kevin must have talked. He didn’t know that I would be home for a short time this afternoon and I didn’t know either. One of my tutoring students canceled out, so they may make the delivery while I’m here. If they do I’ll call and let you know. Thanks!

Kathy

March 5, 2010

Your observations of her writings were not unkind at all, and your analysis of her work is right on. Writing with a restricted amount of space is more difficult than the writing I do. I have unlimited space and therefore just keep writing until I everything I want to say has been said, and is available somewhere among the verbiage. The reader just needs to keep sifting through the chaff in order to find the kernels of wheat.

At various duty stations during my military career, I wrote performance reports for a whole gaggle of people, officers as well as enlisted people, and that included writing my own performance reports. My superior only needed to sign them. The writing wasn’t part of my job. People heard about the guy that could get a person promoted and came to me with the details. I fashioned them into a performance report. The narrative had to be fitted into a limited space, and I soon learned that 250 words wrested from my vocabulary filled that space nicely. When I reached the magic number, I stopped writing.

No, writing such reports was not my job. I was a maintenance analysis superintendent, whatever that was, and I dealt more with numbers than with words. I hated numbers and loved words. Go figure!

While at Kelly Air Force Base in the late 1960s, I wrote performance reports for my commanding officer. In our association over a period of five years, he was promoted twice, from lieutenant colonel to full colonel and then to brigadier general. Coincidentally, I was promoted twice during the same period. My pay raises were not quite as generous as his, of course, and shortly after the second promotion, both his and mine, I was unceremoniously shipped off to Vietnam. I guess the general figured that one star was all he was going to get. Bummer!

November 16, 2010:

That concludes the exchange of e-mails between me and my neighbor. I trust that some of my viewers made it this far in this posting. I realize it’s lengthy, but I also realize that it contains some interesting neighborly communications, perhaps with comical, even historical value that may appeal to my family and to my neighbor and her family, and perhaps to some of my viewers—I hope, I hope!

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

 

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Listen up, South Korea!

Listen up, South Korea!

In August of 2008 Newsweek ranked the top 100 countries in the world. This posting deals with the world ranking of South Korea today, as opposed to the years before 1950, the year that saw the start of the Korean conflict, one that ended in a stalemate some four years later.

In our president’s recent visit to your country you agreed to none of the proposals advanced by Barack Obama, the man that holds a position considered by many to make him the most powerful person on earth. You rejected every proposal, every idea and every project intended to elevate both the United States and South Korea to higher levels in future such world ratings. Obviously his title as the most powerful man in the world does not impress you, at least not collectively as a nation.

I was in Japan on June 25 in 1950 when the North Korean army crossed the 38th parallel. I was stationed at Yokota Air Base at the time, and I began a voluntary 15-month tour in South Korea just four months later. My military record shows that I was involved in five military combat campaigns during those 15 months before rotating to the United States. I mention those dates and assignments merely to establish my right to speak concerning the before and after conditions in South Korea—I was there, and I can assure the reader that South Korea was a far cry from the world-class country that it has become.

In its 2008 report Newsweek placed South Korea in fifteenth place among the top 100 nations in the world, just four places below the eleventh place rating given the United States. The report compiled by Newsweek ranked nations by economy, politics, health and quality of life and stated that the ranking proves the world’s true national champions. Click here for the list of the top 100 nations.

On June 25, 1950 the North Korean army invaded South Korea and began a war that involved the Chinese army and the armed forces of the United States. The war raged for some four years and ended in a stalemate, an armistice that exists to this day some 56 years later. I consider it a war lost along with our other lost war, the one we unsuccessfully waged in Viet Nam—incidentally, I was involved in that war also, for thirteen months in 1969-1970.

Shame on you, South Korea!

Before the United States came to your defense in 1950, you were a backward country in virtually every category considered by Newsweek’s report. The United States saved you from a takeover by North Korea and the army of communist China. Without the help of the United States you would today be the southern part of a united Korea and your economy would be in shambles, just as North Korea’s economy is now, with the government starving its people in order to support one of the world’s largest standing armies.

We helped you subdue the army of North Korea and helped you drive the Chinese armies back across the Yalu River, and we stayed with you following the truce with North Korea. We stayed with you and we continue supporting you with our troops in-country and with favorable trade agreements, actions that have enabled you to become a world power with a stable government, a thriving economy with world class cities, and with health and a quality of life that places you in the top fifteen percent of the world’s best 100 countries.

Be honest and admit that without the United States coming between you and North Korea, you would never have progressed this rapidly in the short span of 56 years since the truce was made. You would still be a backward country, with animal-drawn carts and three men on every shovel in construction projects. Your manufacturing and exports of motor vehicles, tools and household machines, electronics and other products are legion and the United States is your best customer.

Admit it—you dissed our president by failing to acquiesce to even one of his proposals, refuting some outright and placing others on the back burner. Just as a friendly suggestion, you might want to reconsider some of his proposals. Note that the presence of US military personnel in your country is now less than 40,000, down from an earlier force of some 60,000 and you can expect it to drop even lower, perhaps to zero. I mention this only because the people in North Korea are starving, and your thriving economy is looking better and better to them and to their government.

If you are thinking that the United States will stay with you through thick and thin, think again. I call your attention to the fall of South Viet Nam, a war in which our nation called it quits for a variety of reasons. I submit to you that in the event of another invasion by North Korea, one supported by communist China and possibly Russia, the United States may pick up its marbles and go home.

Take a look at the following video—one day this army may be marching in Seoul, celebrating North Korea’s subjugation of South Korea to create a united nation of Korea.

You might want to think about that possibility coming to fruition. I suggest that you think long and hard about it. More than 40,000 Americans died during the Korean conflict fighting to keep your country free. North Korea is poised to invade your country, and the only thing holding it back is your relationship with the United States. When it happens, don’t expect the United States to sacrifice another 40,000 of our fighting men and women.

Trust me—our government might  consider such an action, but the people won’t tolerate it.

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

 

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APP—Bodily fluids do not exist . . .

The APP in the title does not stand for an application for your phone or your computer or any other of the flood of digital gadgets on the market. It stands for A Previous Posting. I originally posted this brilliant essay on the use and misuse of certain words in June of 2009 in response to a request from one of my daughters, the one that lives, loves and works in Northern Virginia. The same daughter just commented on a recent posting and asked me if I would write something on the use of the word bodily, so now you know why I dragged it all the way here from fifteen months ago. I posted it specifically for her, but I’ll cheerfully share it with you.

Bodily fluids do not exist

A certain phrase is frequently—nay, incessantly—used on television and radio stations, in face-to-face conversations, in magazine articles, books, newspapers, pamphlets—in every element and circumstance in which English is spoken and written, we hear and read this phrase—bodily fluids.

A pox on the multitude of unlearned speakers—a pox, I say, on those that use the term bodily fluids.

Bodily fluids do not exist—there is no such thing.

Listen up:

The human body does not contain any bodily fluids, nor do the bodies of any other organisms contain bodily fluids—not the lower orders of animals, whether bipeds, quadrupeds or no-peds, not mammals, not ruminates or non-ruminants, not bees, birds, flies, fleas, ticks, termites, aardvarks, arachnids, reptiles, mollusks or crustaceans—not one zoological organism that exists among our planet’s fauna—nothing that flies, walks, runs, climbs, crawls or slithers, whether on land, in the air or in the world’s vast oceans—not one contains bodily fluids.

Not one.

However, all contain body fluids, substances which are vital to life, including those that remain in the body at all times unless spilled in accidents, or deliberately spilled in altercations, up to and including death. There are, of course, specific body fluids that are expelled naturally through normal body functions—perspiration and tears are a couple which come to mind, but there are others.

Why, you may ask, would I say there is no such thing as bodily fluids? Well, just in case you do ask, I will answer in advance. Bodily is an adverb. Adverbs are usually formed by adding ly to a verb, and the new word is intended to take the action of the verb that precedes it (it usually, but not necessarily, follows the verb in the sentence).

An example would be, “He spoke softly.” He is the subject, spoke is the verb, and soft is the object of the verb, the word which takes the action of the verb, with ly added to show how he spoke—softly.

Please note that body is not a verb—it is a noun, and therefore proper English does not authorize the suffix required to transform it into an adverb. Body can stand as the object of a verb, as in “He caressed her body gently.” Her body is the object of the verb caressed, and the adverb gently tells us how he caressed it—that’s gentle with the e dropped and the y added.

But I digress—on with the posting.

Example of bodily’s proper use:

“The bum was bodily ejected from the club by the bouncer.”

This tells the reader or the listener that the bouncer (subject) ejected (verb) the bum (object) bodily (how he was ejected). Not only did the bouncer eject the bum’s hat, shoes, underwear and outer clothing—he ejected his entire body including everything he was wearing—by ejecting the bum’s body, he ejected him bodily.

Example of body fluids proper use :

On arriving at the crime scene the CSI investigators collected items intended for DNA testing—included in their collection were traces of  semen, sweat, spittle, urine and feces (those CSI people are very thorough). That which they collected were traces of body fluids, not bodily fluids (judging by the above, this may well have been a sex-related crime scene).

And now, finally, the conclusion of this posting:

Nobel prize winners, doctors of medicine, doctors of letters, ambassadors, presidents (oh, yeah!), senators, congressmen and most egregious of all, newspaper columnists and virtually every talking head and commentator and journalist on television—all, almost without exception, refer to body fluids as bodily fluids—the misuse is so universally voiced that some doubt exists (mine) as to whether the proper term will ever be used. I fear that, similar to the word nuclear, the improper use of bodily as an adjective has corrupted our language and is here to stay.

Consider our penultima president (that’s the next-to-last president, the one immediately prior to the current occupant of the White House). He frequently had need to use the word nuclear, and he consistently pronounced it new-key-ler. Affected (and infected) by his eight years on television, approximately half the English-speaking world (my estimate) now pronounces the word new-key-ler. I predict that our current president, simply from exposure to television and talking heads, commentators and roving whatevers, even with his ivy-league education, may soon endorse that mispronouncement and make it mandatory by issuing a presidential edict—in that event, the word would probably appear on his teleprompter as new-key-ler.

A pox on the multitude of unlearned who use the term bodily fluids:

Bodily fluids do not exist. There is no such thing. Fluid in the body is body fluid.

A pox on the multitude of unlearned who say new-key-ler:

The word is spelled nuclear. It should be pronounced nuclear.

That’s my story and my complaint, and I’m sticking to both!

 

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Reflections of a former Customs inspector…

I wrote this article soon after I began a three-year assignment, 1983-1986, at U.S. Customs Headquarters in Washington, D.C. It was published in the 1984 fall issue of Customs Today, the official magazine of the U.S. Customs Service. The Customs Service has changed dramatically since that time. The number of ports on the southern border may have changed, some added and some deleted, and staffing has been increased and titles have changed, but the mission of Customs inspectors has not changed—I made no effort to reflect the changes in the article for this posting. It is reproduced here exactly as it appeared in the 1984 winter issue of Customs Today. Click here for an article published in the winter of 1986.

Reflections of a former inspector

This year some 300 million people will enter the United states. Whether they enter by air, land or sea each will be greeted by a uniformed Customs inspector. There are 5,000 of us covering the international airports and scattered along 96,000 miles of land and sea borders. Each year we clear for entry travelers whose numbers far surpass the total population of the United States. Expediting the entry of so many people leaves little time to visit, and everything must be strictly business. In this article I want to say some things that the lack of time usually prohibits, things that I hope will promote a better understanding of the Customs Service—its mission, its people and its history.

Our mission is to protect the revenue, industries, economy and environment of the United States, a large order by any standard. In addition to Customs statutes and state and local laws, we enforce more than 400 provisions of laws from 40 other federal agencies. We realize that very few travelers are lawbreakers, and of those few only a minute fraction break the law intentionally. Unfortunately, whether the law is broken intentionally or inadvertently, the lawbreaker cannot be identified by appearance, occupation or position in the community.

Since we cannot visually single out the offenders, completely innocent persons are often caused some degree of inconvenience on their entry into the United States. Such people sometimes feel that they are being checked because we suspect them of smuggling, that we are accusing them of dealing in illicit drugs and narcotics. In most cases we are simply trying to protect them. Our questions and our inspections may reveal something they have overlooked in their declarations or something they may have felt it unnecessary to declare, something that could adversely affect their health, their business interests or their environment.

Our job requires us to be able to meet and deal effectively with persons of widely divergent backgrounds. That divergence  includes the well known and the unknown, the rich and the poor and the in-between. It includes kings and consorts, consuls, clergy, congressmen and cabinet members. It includes priests, popes, premiers, presidents, pimps, prostitutes and fugitives from justice, and thieves, rapists and murderers. It includes drug dealers and pushers, addicts, derelicts and drunks. We are required to meet and deal effectively with people of every conceivable occupation, education level and age, race, religion, creed, color, nationality, ethnicity, ideological bent and political affiliation.

In each of these contacts our employer demands that we be professional, firm, fair and courteous. Courtesy is defined as being “pleasant, polite, respectful, considerate, helpful and patient, and the mandate for courtesy insists on strict adherence under difficult conditions and personal stress, and in the face of extreme provocation. In its efforts to inculcate such moral excellence The Customs Service continually stresses professionalism, courtesy and objectivity.

There are undoubtedly times that we lose our objectivity in conducting an inspection. We bring to the job our private problems, fears, frustrations, aspirations and prejudices, and these sometimes surface unbidden. However, we face the same characteristics in the people with whom we deal. The difference, of course, is that our conduct is officially mandated and proscribed, while they are free to vent their feelings and express their opinions with virtually no restrictions on attitude or language. We cannot respond in kind. They complain to our superiors and their complaints are heard. Investigations are conducted and if warranted, corrective and sometimes disciplinary actions are taken. We have no such recourse available to us.

We consider complaints, to a certain degree, to be an inevitable part of our job. People complain in order to correct a wrong, either real or imagined, and sometimes they complain in an effort to impress or to intimidate. We realize that most complaints are neither vindictive nor malicious, and simply require assurance that the situation is being investigated to determine if a problem exists and if so, assurance that corrective action will be taken to correct the problem.

Most of us have also accepted the fact that verbal abuse is part of the job, a hazard of the occupation. We usually manage to maintain at least a thin veneer of courtesy and patience through frequent and extreme instances of name-calling and suggestions, very explicit, on what we should do with our badge, and in some instances offers are made to do it for us.

That badge, our Service tells us, is best worn with some degree of humility, a dictate noble in concept but not easily followed. It is difficult to feel humble when so much pride is present—pride in being allowed to represent our nation t its borders, pride in being the first line of defense against the flow of illegal drugs and narcotics, and pride in the traditions and rich heritage of the United States Customs Service.

Our heritage began just fifteen years after this nation declared its independence. On July 4, 1979 George Washington signed the Tariff Act, and Customs was born. In the first year of operation our collectors raised $2 million, and by 1835 had made the nation debt free. For 125 years, until the federal income tax act was passed, Customs revenue was virtually the sole source of income for the United States.

The collection of Customs revenue has been entrusted to some illustrious Americans. John Lamb, hero of the battle of Fort Ticonderoga, was an early collector, as was the poet Edwin Arlington Robinson. Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Chester Arthur, twenty-first president of the United States, and Pat Garrett, the man that ended the career—and life—of Billy the Kid, Matthew Henson who, with Admiral Byrd, planted the U.S. flag at the North Pole in 1909—all served ably in the United States Customs Service.

Since their time we have grown with the nation. The Customs Service now has some 15,000 dedicated employees distributed among seven regions, 45 districts, 300 ports of entry at our nation’s international airports and land and sea borders, and foreign field offices in ten major world capitals. Since 1955 our total work force has doubled, but has in no way kept pace with a workload that has quadrupled and is still expanding.

With a workload of such magnitude, it is inevitable that some detentions and searches of completely innocent persons will occur. It is probably also inevitable that some of our actions will be construed as harassment. They are not. We are professional law enforcement officers and direct representatives of our government, and we do not take our responsibilities lightly. In accomplishing our mission we try to consider peoples’ feelings and gain their willing cooperation. We attempt to deal with them objectively and fairly. We are not always successful.

We are sometimes told by persons dissatisfied with their inspection that they pay our salaries, and that without them we would not have a job. We freely acknowledge those truths. American taxpayers do indeed pay our salaries, and our jobs exist because the tax payers, through their elected representatives, feel that we are needed. We are thus indebted and ask only that they cooperate fully to assist us in doing the job for which they hired us—collecting the revenue and protecting their interests.

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Hershel M. (Mike) Dyer is a Program Officer in the Office of Inspection Control, Office of Inspectional Liaison at Headquarters. He spent 12 years as an inspector and supervisory inspector on the Southwest Border.

 
 

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The view from the southern border . . .

I wrote this article during  a three-year assignment at U.S. Customs Headquarters in Washington, DC. It was published in the 1986 winter issue of Customs Today, the official magazine of the U.S. Customs Service. The Customs Service has changed dramatically since that time. The number of ports on the southern border may have changed, some added and some deleted, and staffing has been increased and titles have changed, but the mission of Customs inspectors has not changed—I made no effort to reflect the changes in the article for this posting. It is reproduced here exactly as it appeared in the 1986 winter issue of Customs Today. Click here for a similar article published in the 1984 fall issue of Customs Today.

The view from the southern border

Everything you are about to read is true. Any resemblance to actual persons, situations and locations is purely intentional and nothing has been changed to protect the innocent. On the southern border there are very few innocents. Most of the traveling public spends its time trying to find ways to outwit customs inspectors, and most customs inspectors lost their innocence when they accepted their assignment on the southern border.

This article is intended to show southern land border inspectors as they are—not just a group of people in a certain geographical location or a segment of a larger group with similar functions, but as individuals subject to the frailties, vagaries, and sublime achievements of human nature. It is meant to inform, to educate, to entertain and perhaps to amuse—to stimulate and provoke thought and action, and to show life and work on the southern border from the heart and through the eyes of the inspectors themselves.

Most inspectors are satisfied in their chosen profession, including its location. Many were born, reared and educated in or near the area in which they now live and work, and many enjoy social, economic, cultural and familial ties with people on both sides of the border. Probably few of them would change even if given their choice of assignments at an airport or seaport, or at another of the 25 ports and stations along the southern border.

Those 25 crossing points between the United States and Mexico cover some 2,000 miles, a thin blue line of customs inspectors stretching from Brownsville at the tip of Texas on the Gulf of Mexico to San Ysidro in southern California on the Pacific Ocean. Tour those ports, and travel from the old-world balustrades of Brownsville to the gleaming spires of San Diego—from the dry sub-tropic air and lush vegetation of the Rio Grande Valley to the high thin air of El Paso, through the searing heat of southwestern deserts where the giant saguaro cactus sometimes attains heights of fifty feet in its lifespan of 200 years, and across the fabled Imperial Valley of California to San Ysidro and the cooling breezes of the Pacific Ocean.

From Brownsville to Progreso and on to Hidalgo, follow U.S. Highway 8, known locally as Old Military Highway, the same route patrolled by General Zachary Taylor and his troops during the war with Mexico. Under the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, the border between Texas and Mexico was moved southward to the Rio Grande River, known to the Mexican people as Rio Bravo, or Brave River. The treaty also made California, Arizona and New Mexico part of the United States. The borders with Arizona and New Mexico were fixed by treaty at the Gila River, and the Gadsden Purchase of 1853 extended them to their present limits.

At Los Ebanos watch the operation of the world’s only hand-operated international ferry—no traffic backups at Los Ebanos because the ferry will only accommodate two cars on each trip. The modern aluminum vessel now plying the waters of the Rio Grande replaced a series of wooden vessels which in their turn were replacements for the original operation, a lone boatman moving passengers and cargo across the river in a vessel made by welding two automobile hoods together.

Continue to Rio Grande City and to Roma, an area rich in history and folklore. A new concrete structure spans the Rio Grande River at Roma, just upstream from the old suspension bridge which, although condemned, stands proudly as a monument to the skills of earlier engineers and bridge builders. Some of Roma’s adobe walls still bear the scars of bullets fired by revolutionaries, renegades and Rangers, and just a stone’s throw from the Customhouse is the church plaza where Marlon Brando, as the legendary bandit Emiliano in the movie Vive Zapata, fell and died under a withering hail of rifle fire from the surrounding balconies and rooftops.

Continue the tour through District Headquarters in Laredo and on to Eagle Pass and Del Rio. En route to Del Rio spend a few moments of silence near the spot where Customs Inspector Richard Latham was murdered after being kidnapped from his post in Del Rio in February 1984, the fifth-fourth Customs officer to die in the line of duty since 1900. There can be no fault attached to the deaths of those fine officers. Their contributions to the Customs Service extended to life itself, and those sacrifices will be acknowledged when the Congress of the United States recognizes customs inspectors as true law enforcement officers, entitled to hazardous duty recognition and early retirement.

Between Del Rio and Fabens lie miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles, except for the solitary port of Presidio. En route to Presidio, visit the Lily Langtry Saloon in Langtry, Texas where Judge Roy Bean dispensed his personal and peculiar brand of frontier justice as The Only Law West of the Pecos. Langtry takes its name from the saloon that was named in honor of the celebrated actress, a lady loved by the judge from afar for many years. Miss Langtry eventually came to Texas to meet her admirer, but the judge could wait no longer—he died shortly before her visit.

From El Paso and District Headquarters to the California state line, ports and stations are suspended from the main highways by lengthy, lonely ribbons of state highways, and each port represents a major detour from the main route. Each is worthy of the detour if time permits, because each is unique and each is an integral part of the U.S. Customs Service.

On to Columbus, New Mexico and Douglas, Naco and Nogales, District Headquarters for Customs operations in Arizona—to Sasabe, to Lukeville and the federal inspection facility dewigned by the architectural firm of Frank Lloyd Wright, to the twin ports of San Luis and Andrade—the port directors are twin brothers—and on to Calexico in the heart of California’s Imperial Valley. On a recent December morning the writer stepped out on a motel balcony in El Centro for a breath of clear cool desert air, and memories of a childhood on the farm came rushing in, triggered by a strong breeze coming from the direction of El Centro’s numerous cattle feed lots. Continue to the port of Tecate, just across the border from the Mexican city of Tecat from which Mexico’s famous beer takes it name. End the tour of the Mexican border at San Ysidro, the world’s largest land border crossing point, with24 lanes of incoming vehicle traffic.

No feature on Customs could possibly be complete without statistics, and this one is no exception. However, the statistics will be limited to certain completely unbiased minimums. Land border inspectors comprise about one-third of the total inspection force of 4,500, and that group of 1,500 is fairly evenly divided between the northern and southern borders. Since only thirty million of the 300 million people that enter the United States each year come by air and sea, the remaining 270 million enter at land border ports. For those of a statistical bent, these figures mean that 33 percent of the work force processes 90 percent of the passenger and pedestrian workload.

Inspectors on the southern border live and work in proximity to, and are in daily contact with, the people of a foreign nation, a country of some 70 million struggling through a deepening economic crisis, a people those currency is today worth only one-twentieth of its value 12 years ago. The inspectors are very much aware of conditions across the border, and although they carry out their responsibilities with diligence and dedication they are sometimes reluctant witnesses to the laws that they enforce.

They understand the conditions that drive people north in search of work and a better life, fleeing an economy with an unemployment rate of forty percent—four of every ten workers—and an unemployment rate even higher in border cities. They know the people that subject their infant children to the dangers and rigors of an illegal border crossing are attempting to escape an infant mortality rate that approaches fifty percent among children up to the age of five years.

With tragic frequency the inspectors learn from a motorist or pedestrian of a floater in the river—the Rio Grande has claimed another life. Many that attempt the illegal crossing come from the arid interior of Mexico. At home they had no lakes, no river, no YMCA, no municipal pools or backyard pools, and no country swimming holes—they are victims of the deceptively tranquil waters of the Rio Grande because they cannot swim—they simply never had the opportunity to learn. Sometimes the inspectors learn that others have been found dead or dying or wandering aimlessly without food or water in the deserts of West Texas or New Mexico or Arizona or California, left there by alien smugglers that first exacted their profits for services rendered.

To work on the southern border is to bear witness to poverty, misery, despair and tragedy, and it is impossible to remain untouched or to become inured. Inspectors may mask their feelings with a veneer of cynicism, a facade of callousness or indifference but they understand—they feel, and they care.

While the southern border involves a certain amount of danger to the safety and wellbeing of the inspectors, they realize that theirs is not the only inspector positions that are fraught with peril. They have all heard the horror stories associated with airport duty—of the many close encounters with stellar figures of the entertainment industry, of heaving bosoms and violet eyes, and of the sports world, and with diplomats, senators, representatives and other high-ranking officials, all exemplifying the rigors of airport duty. They know that climate control systems at the airports sometimes malfunction, and they are aware of the constant struggle by management to keep the lid on the annual overtime pay cap.

Their awareness of overtime problems may be faintly tinged with envy because land border inspectors make their overtime money the old-fashioned way—they earn it. Virtually all overtime is non-reimbursable and each call out requires the full two hours on duty—no rollbacks, no lag time and no standby time. The four overtime periods earned on Sundays and holidays demand the full eight hours, and the eight-hour tour of duty is spent alternating between primary and secondary stations at vehicle and pedestrian checkpoints. The overtime pay cap presents very few problems for management on the southern border, because the cap is rarely within the inspectors’ reach.

Airport hardships are freely acknowledged by southern land border inspectors, just as they freely acknowledge the every-present dangers faced by airport inspectors from smugglers, fugitives from justice and from all the criminal elements of our society and other societies of the word.

They acknowledge such hardships because they face the same problems—except for the Hollywood stars, high-ranking officials, climate control and the overtime pay cap, and an almost endless array of other problems including working exposed to vicious extremes of hear and cold, precipitation in all its forms, and unremitting atmospheric pollution caused by wind and dust and dirt, and by gases and solid particles spewing from the exhausts of millions of vehicles. Our neighbor to the south has no environmental protection agency to impose and enforce pollution controls, and there are no government restrictions on lead content and other petroleum additives.

We can only speculate on the long term effects of constant exposure to concentrated amounts of nitrogen oxides, lead, sulphur, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and other toxic substances. It has been estimated that an adult inhales 30 pound of air daily. With more than one-third of their time on duty spent in highly polluted areas, land border inspectors ingest at least ten pounds of contaminated air daily. They must ultimately pay a high price for such exposure in upper respiratory infections and diseases, in kidney and liver and heart problems, in aggravated asthmatic and bronchial conditions, and in impairment of vision and psychomotor performance. In short, they must eventually pay a high price in virtually every physiological system and body function.

Inspectors on the southern land border face many dangers and enemies not covered by their position descriptions. In addition to smugglers, fugitives from justice and a representative cross-section of every criminal element known to law enforcement, they are faced with many situations that are not covered in the inspector’s manual and must be dealt with as they occur.

Consider the risk inherent in convincing a child that the candied apple on a stick purchased in Mexico is a potential threat to America’s citrus industry, and that its importation is restricted by the United States Department of Agriculture. The child neither knows nor cares about agricultural restrictions and prohibitions. If time and traffic permit, the inspector will sometimes supervise the immediate and on-site destruction of the prohibited item by the importer through internal consumption.

Even more risk is involved when the inspector is forced to tell a truck driver that the beautiful sea-turtle boots he just paid $150 for must be confiscated and held for the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife—in many instances the trucker left his old boots in Mexico and therefore is shoeless when released by the inspector.

There is risk involved in telling a lady that her five gallons of fresh mango slices, carefully separated from the seeds because she believed only the seeds are prohibited, will be held for the scalpel, microscope and food-grinders of the Agriculture inspectors. The traveler is only slightly mollified by the inspector’s explanation that the flesh of mangoes is prohibited because the pulp, not the seed, is the host for the destructive pest USDA seeks to control.

Many families supplement their limited or fixed incomes by shopping for food staples on the other side of the border, and when their fresh eggs, pork, potatoes and fruits are confiscated their reaction is far too often that of hoping that the inspectors enjoy the meal.

With the first hint of snow in the north the annual migration of snowbirds begins. These winter visitors arrive at border cities singly and in pairs, and sometimes in caravans a hundred strong. They will spend the winter foraging for food and drink, and as any land border inspector knows, their diet consists mainly of cookies, liquor, vanilla and garlic, all purchased in the markets of Mexican border cities. Of various phenomenae observed among the snowbirds these are among the most fascinating—not one has ever been to Mexico before, and a highly disproportionate number of them are sibling twins.

Inspector: Didn’t you bring a bottle of liquor from Mexico yesterday?

Snowbird: Officer, you may not believe this but I have a twin, and I’ll bet he was here yesterday.

In some areas the winter visitors stretch local tourist facilities to the breaking point, along with the tolerance and patience of most Customs inspectors. In the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, they expand the normal population of 400,000 to more than three million. Fortunately the breaking point is never reached, of facilities or of patience and tolerance, and with the advent of spring the homeward trek begins.

The annual ebb and flow of winter visitors is repeated in varying degrees at every crossing point on the Mexican border. To southern border inspectors these are the signs of changing seasons, as sure an indication as is the first snowfall or the first robin to their counterparts on the northern border.

Strong kidneys and a weak bladder were the downfall of an illegal alien one evening at Brownsville, Texas. An alert inspector noticed what he suspected to be a gasoline leak in a sedan whose occupants were in the Immigration office obtaining permits. He conducted a smell test to the liquid and determined that it was not gasoline, and a closer inspection revealed a smuggled alien concealed in a compartment behind the rear seat. The long drive from the interior of Mexico and the delay in the office was the alien’s downfall. He was promptly documented and returned to Mexico, and the driver of the vehicle was arrested for smuggling.

A check of an automobile trunk at the port of Progreso prompted by sounds of feminine giggling produced three smuggled alien females, all young and all ladies of the evening, bound for cantinas and cash transactions on the U. S. side of the border. Although Mexico and particularly the stare of Tamaulipas has made some effort to clean up border red light districts, the so-called Boy’s Town found in every border city in Mexico, but they still exist. They are variously called la zona roja—the red zone—and la zona de tolerencia—the zone of tolerance.

The red light districts contribute to the inspector’s frustration by eliciting this answer to the question of whether the person acquired anything in Mexico—Oh, God, I hope not! If every inspector had a dollar for every time he has heard that answer on Saturday night and Sunday morning the Customs Service would not need early retirement for inspectors—they could retire early just on that income.

They could retire even earlier if compensated for the number of times the same inquiry is answered by Just a belly full of good food—you can’t tax that, ha, ha, ha! Such answers highlight one of the worst aspects of the job. After a short time the inspectors have heard every possible answer or combination of answers, and find little humor in them, particularly near the end of a long tour of duty. Their inability to respond with a laugh or a smile is usually interpreted as surliness, or as indifference or dissatisfaction with their job.

And how about this one? Oh, nothing much, just a little pot. Further questioning and inspection produces a little pot, molded and fired in the clay kilns of Mexico, and evidently purchased for the express purpose of playing a trick on the Customs inspector. And this one—Oh, just some liquor, and a single bottle is held up for inspection. Search reveals one or more additional bottles, and when the declarant is questioned the response is, Well, I told you that I had some liquor—I just didn’t say how much liquor.

The question of citizenship frequently generates this response—Of course I’m an American citizen. Do I look like a frigging Mexican to you? Or this one—Yeah, I’m an American citizen—are you? The latter response is usually directed to Hispanic Customs inspectors. The varieties of questions are not endless—they are finite, and the inspectors quickly learn the entire repertoire.

The size, numbers and feeding habits of southern mosquitoes, especially those of Texas, are legendary. They are undoubtedly known to people all over the world, and this article will not attempt to expand or dispel those legends—except perhaps to advance the theory that many, perhaps most, of the unauthorized discharges of weapons by southern border inspectors are directed against mosquitoes, and the action was the last resort of the inspector in defense of his life or that of another, as required by the firearms manual. When a mosquito is the target there are usually two distinct sounds, depending on the shooter’s accuracy. The first is made by the weapon’s discharge, and the second is made when the mosquito hits the ground.

An ever-present enemy and perhaps one of the most dangerous is boredom, ranging from the frustration of starting an eight hour shift at San Ysidro facing an endless sea of vehicles and finishing the shift without ever seeing a break in the line, to the utter boredom of waiting for a vehicle to break the monotony of the night and help the inspector stay awake.

No southern border inspector will ever admit to having fallen asleep on such a shift, but almost every one of them will confess they have spent some time with their eyes closed, checking their eyelids for cracks. One inspector, whose name appears beneath the title of this article, opened his eyes after such an operation in the wee small hours of the morning to find an auto parked beside him at the primary inspection point, its engine turned off and its occupants waiting politely and patiently for the inspector to finish the inspection of his eyelids and begin his inspection of their entry into the United States. They were early morning commuters, traveling to work in the vegetable fields and citrus groves of the Rio Grande alley.

Other insidious and deadly enemies of land border inspectors are familiarity and complacency. They see the same people day after day, many of them several times during the course of a single shift, and this familiarity must inevitably color their judgment and their treatment of the traveler. Such people may attempt to break the law because their estimate of the chances of being caught are based on the superficial and cursory treatment accorded by some inspectors.

Complacency has killed more law enforcement officers than any other habit or characteristic, and Customs inspectors are particularly vulnerable. They are not in the position of street cops that know they are in a danger zone and are far more likely to govern their actions on that basis. The Customs inspector must continually be aware that in the usual crowd of migrant workers, affluent businessmen, bona fide tourists and little old ladies in tennis shoes may be, and probably is, one of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted fugitives.

Everything you have just read is true, but the observations, thoughts and opinions interspersed in the narrative are personal—they belong to the writer. They are therefore highly subjective and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or feelings of any other person or group. No offense is intended through their expression and none should be taken. Certain observations may be viewed as criticisms by some, but they are constructive in nature and intent and should be regarded in that light.

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Hershel M. (Mike) Dyer is a Program Officer in the Office of Inspection Control, Office of Inspectional Liaison at Headquarters. He spent 12 years as an inspector and supervisory inspector on the Southwest Border.

 
 

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