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Revisit: A letter to my brother Larry (1919-1983) . . . (via The King of Texas)

Dear Larry, I know this will surprise you because the only other letter you’ve received from me was dated 64 years ago. Yep, I was only 12 years old when I asked you to take pity on an exhausted, skinny, lightweight newspaper delivery boy by helping him buy a motorcycle—well, actually I was hoping you would spring for the entire amount, a mere pittance of $125 plus delivery charges. You were doing a brisk business hauling coal for the federal buildings—Read More here. . .

via The King of Texas

Concerning comments and replies thereto:

Astute readers will note that in this posting I have placed the cart before the horse—what follows below is a comment on the original post and my reply to that comment. In order to fully appreciate the reader’s comment and my reply, one should first read the original posting by clicking on the Read More above, or by clicking here if you like.

I like to consider my postings on Word Press as travels and travails through life, both for me and for my family members and others about whom I write. The actual postings are the interstate highways, and reader’s comments and my replies to those comments are the blue highways, the roads traveled by the author of the book Blue Highways, a forever memorable journey—read a review here. The following is excerpted from the Amazon.com review:

First published in 1982, William Least Heat-Moon’s account of his journey along the back roads of the United States (marked with the color blue on old highway maps) has become something of a classic. When he loses his job and his wife on the same cold February day, he is struck by inspiration: “A man who couldn’t make things go right could at least go. He could quit trying to get out of the way of life. Chuck routine. Live the real jeopardy of circumstance. It was a question of dignity.

I assure you that Blue Highways is difficult to put down once you have started reading it, comparable to running downhill, eating peanuts or having sex. I beg forgiveness for having used those hoary similes, but they are so expressive I cannot pass up an opportunity to voice them—I’m sorry, but it’s in my nature! And continuing in that same vein, comments to postings and the author’s replies are, at the end of the day, where the rubber meets the road, a couple of metaphors that, although quite descriptive, are tremendously overused.

But I digress—this is a revisit to my July 2010 posting of a letter I wrote to my brother some 23 years after his  death (I assume that it was received, because it was not returned). I have extracted a reader’s comment and my reply to that comment—I felt that they were far too cogent to remain in Stygian darkness so I brought them out into the  bright light of today.

This is a comment from my niece:

Thanks to Vicki I found your blog earlier this week. To say the least I have spent several hours strolling down memory lane (memories of tales told to me by my mother, grandmother, and aunts) and other hours traveling new and foreign fields. Once when I was visiting your “prettiest sister” she shared the letter you had written her, the one I found here that was written to both sisters. You have always had a way with words. Make that 7 favorite granddaughters—I never could count.

And this is my reply:

Hi—it’s a real pleasure to hear from you. The first name was familiar but the Argo stumped me. I believe that your married name is a harbinger of things to come—good things. Cindy is archiving all this drivel to which I’m subjecting viewers in the remote possibility that she will one day publish said drivel in book form. She already has my first book standing by in the wings, ready to publish. It’s a compendium of jokes, and some—well, many of them—okay, okay, all of them—are of the type that would require the book to be displayed on the top shelf, out of reach for children. In our current motion picture rating system, it would probably be labeled MA15+, Not suitable for persons younger than 15. I’m mulling over that provision and so far have withheld permission to publish—not that Cindy is all that eager to publish  it—she’s pretty busy, deeply engrossed in the process of making a living.

As you well know, Argo is the name of Jason’s craft in Greek mythology, the vessel that sailed in search of the Golden Fleece. I know it’s a stretch but that’s what I’m doing—if it should come to pass, a book of my postings, my pseudo autobiography, will be my Golden Fleece. The term pseudo has many meanings—one of those meanings, perhaps the one most applicable to my efforts is, something old and useless that is paraded around in order to evoke irony.

I hasten to say that I do not profess to be a modern Jason. I humbly admit, with all humility aside, that I am merely an Argonaut, one of the band of heroes that assisted Jason in his quest. I’ll also admit that I’ve never understood why anyone would risk life and limb in search of a stinky old sheepskin.

Thanks for visiting, and thanks for the comment, and I promise I’ll keep posting if you will continue visiting and commenting—as we sailors are wont to say, “I like the cut of your jib!”

Oh, and one more thought—you and I are in emphatic agreement on your label of my prettiest sister, but please don’t tell the others! That’s what your Grandma Hester did each time we visited—one by one she would take the girls aside and tell each that she was the prettiest and that she loved her more than the others but please don’t tell them. That worked for several years until one of the girls—we’re unsure which—finally spilled the beans, whether deliberately or inadvertently is unknown.

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

 
 

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Re: 60 miles on one gallon of diesel . . .

Earlier this month I posted a story about a rabbit that thrived on diesel fuel—not a real rabbit, of course—this was a Volkswagen Rabbit that performed heroically for our family in the years between 1978 and 1984. I would like to believe that it is still performing, some 26 years after I donated it to the Salvation Army in McAllen, Texas—could be—who knows?

Click here to read about the Rabbit’s ability to travel 60 miles on one gallon of diesel fuel.

For a related story about the car, A Rabbit with an attitude, click here.

What follows is a comment from one of my three daughters, the princess that lives in a Dallas suburb with her husband, her son, her daughter and a Blue-heeled Australian Shepherd named Wrigley, along with various insects and other creepy-crawly specimens collected by her daughter. I felt that my daughter’s comment, combined with my response, qualified for a separate posting. My daughter also has a WordPress blog. She started off at top speed then came to an abrupt stop, but the initial posting is well worth the read. Click here for her posting about the Easter bunny.

This is my daughter’s comment:

What I remember most about this car was driving to San Antonio to buy the car. You and mom dumped—okay, dropped—us off at the movies to see “Jaws.” Cindy and I sat through one showing and you didn’t show up—we sat through another showing and you still hadn’t come back to pick us up. Halfway through the third showing you proudly came into the theater with the great news that you had bought the car. I am sure that seeing Jaws two and one-half times has something to do with my fear of being ripped to shreds by a shark—that and my overactive imagination.

This is my response to her comment:

Sorry about that, but thanks for your comment. It taught me a new word—galeophobia. Had I been asked the meaning of that word before now, I would have guessed that it meant a fear of strong winds—tornados, hurricanes, summer breezes wafting o’er the meadows, etc. For your edification—if needed—and that of the hordes of viewers stampeding and elbowing one another in their efforts to gain access to my blog, I am including Wikipedia’s take on fear of sharks—click here for the Wikipedia web site.

From Wikipedia:

Fear of sharks: Excessive and persistent fear of sharks is termed galeophobia. Sufferers from this phobia experience anxiety even though they may be safe on a boat or in an aquarium or on a beach. Hollywood films depicting sharks as calculating, vengeful diabolical monsters have no doubt enkindled the fear of sharks in many persons. So have validated reports of sharks venturing into rivers and lakes.

Most of the more than 300 species of sharks rarely attack swimmers and scuba divers. However, great white sharks, hammerhead sharks and tiger sharks will attack on occasion, especially if they detect blood in the water. More than 60 percent of the victims of shark attacks survive. Oddly, the largest of all sharks, the whale shark, feeds on plankton and has no appetite for human flesh.

The term “galeophobia” is derived from the Greek words “galeos” (shark with markings resembling those on a weasel) and “phobos” (fear). “Galeophobia” is also sometimes used as alternate term for ailurophobia, fear of cats, because the Greek word “galeos” is derived from “galee,” a Greek meaning “polecat” and “weasel.”

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

Postscript: I stumbled upon a website that featured a Panama-brown Rabbit owned by a lover of Panama-brown Rabbits. Click here to view multiple photos—this car differs from my rabbit only in the number of doors—mine had four—and its fuel requirements. The owner doesn’t say, but I believe this is a gasoline model. My Rabbit was configured for diesel fuel.

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2010 in cars, drivers, Family

 

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60 miles to the gallon on diesel . . .

In 1977 I began the year as a journeyman Customs inspector at the port of Progreso, Texas at the international border with Mexico, just as I had done for the past six years since beginning my employment with the U.S. Customs Service in December of 1971, just six months after my retirement from the U.S. Air Force in July of that year.

In the summer of 1977 I applied for a supervisory position at the port of Roma, some 75 miles farther upstream on the Rio Grande River, and I was selected in the competition for the position of a first-level supervisor at that location. I went to Roma in October of 1977 and remained there two and one-half years until 1980. Early in 1980 I was promoted to a second-level supervisory position at the port of Brownsville, Texas and I relocated there in April of that year.

My home was in Donna, Texas, a small town in the lower Rio Grande Valley some 60 miles distant from my duties at the port of Roma. At the time I was driving a 1972 Ford LTD that used a considerable amount of gas per mile, so I searched for a more economical vehicle. I sold the Ford and bought a 1978 Chevrolet that turned out to be a gas hog, so I traveled to San Antonio is search of a vehicle a bit easier on fuel.

I returned to the Valley with a Panama Brown 1978 Volkswagen Rabbit equipped with the original Rabbit gasoline engine that had been modified to run on diesel fuel. Diesel in Mexico was selling for a whopping 12 cents a gallon at that time, and the station was a mere one-eighth of a mile from the Customhouse, across the river in Miguel Aleman, Mexico. I gave the Chevrolet to one of my daughters in Donna, Texas.

The Rabbit had four doors and seated four passengers in relative comfort considering its diminutive size, with front bucket seats and a floor-mounted manual gear shift. It had the basic required dashboard instruments, but the only extras were a radio and air conditioning. Its color was called Panama Brown, but it could only be considered a rather bright shade of orange.

I started making the 120 mile round trip between home and work and soon realized that I was getting excellent mileage, but I wanted to know exactly how far the little car would run on a full tank of diesel. The tank held 10 gallons—I told the station attendant in Mexico to pack it in, and filled a one gallon can with diesel to carry in the car. I intended to run until the tank was empty—I couldn’t think of a better way to get an accurate picture of the performance of a gasoline engine configured to run on diesel.

I decided to run without air conditioning for the test because I knew that the compressor took a toll on the engine’s power. I zeroed out the mile indicator and maintained a steady maximum speed of 60-65 miles per hours for the duration of the test. I drove until the engine stopped running and then let the car coast to a stop. The coasting didn’t gain much, because the terrain between home and work was flat, with no hills and no curves.

Including the one hundred feet or so covered in the coasting when the tank ran dry, I recorded exactly 600 miles. With a ten-gallon tank that means the little orange Rabbit averaged 60 miles for each gallon of diesel—I sure wish I had it now!

I drove the Rabbit for the two and one-half years I  worked at Roma, then for another three and one-half years that I worked at the port of Brownsville, a round-trip distance of 100 miles between my home in Donna and my work site in Brownsville. In October of 1983 I passed the Rabbit to my daughter that at the time was living in Donna and making the same 100-mile round trip in the gas-guzzling 1978 Chevrolet. She parked the Chevrolet and I donated it to the Salvation Army in McAllen, Texas and took a decent tax write-off for the donation.

Now for the kicker: My daughter drove the Rabbit for another two years, then she parked it and came to live with us in Washington, D.C. I donated the little car to the same charity and took another decent write-off for the donation.

Its speedometer showed an honest 186, 000 miles, and here is the clincher—I never changed the glow plugs nor ever replaced a tire—never even had a flat. The only maintenance performed on that magnificent automobile during that 186,000 miles was the replacement of the fan belt—it broke at exactly 100,000 miles while I was on the way to work, still with about 30 miles to go. I lost all electrical power, but a diesel doesn’t need electricity—the heat of the glow plugs keeps it running. I drove directly to the Volkswagen dealer in Brownsville and had the belt replaced.

That’s my story of my 1978 Panama Brown diesel Rabbit, and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2010 in bridge, cars, taxes, Travel

 

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A letter to my brother Larry (1919-1983) . . .

Dear Larry,

I know this will surprise you because the only other letter you’ve received from me was dated 64 years ago. Yep, I was only 12 years old when I asked you to take pity on an exhausted, skinny, lightweight newspaper delivery boy by helping him buy a motorcycle—well, actually I was hoping you would spring for the entire amount, a mere pittance of $125 plus delivery charges. You were doing a brisk business hauling coal for the federal buildings in downtown Washington, D.C., and our mother felt that you could well afford that amount and would jump at the chance to support baby brother in his work.

I don’t say this in an effort to pass the buck, but that letter was not my idea. Mama suggested it, and at the same time she had me write to Willis, our dad, and ask him for money—no specific amount was requested, and I received no specific amount—none, zilch, zip, zero—and my letter was neither answered nor returned, much the same result as my letter to you. I wrote a letter to Willis, but the only thing I remember about it is the sign-off that Hester composed:

No mon, no fun, your son—Mikey

I was really having trouble balancing that heavy paperbag, especially on Sundays because of the increased weight of the papers. As one might expect, much of my paper route was on unpaved streets—it was mostly on the south side of Columbus, Mississippi, and the city’s southside was the last in line for upgrades such as converting graveled streets to asphalt paving. I have since learned that such niceties depend on the tax base, and relatively few dollars flowed into the city’s coffers from southside residents and businesses.

I found the cycle of my choice in a magazine advertisement—it was black, low-slung with a Harley Hog saddle seat and a kick-starter, and it was belt driven—it sported the requisites of headlight and tail light, and in those days tags and a driver’s license were not required.

Note that I said belt driven—the motorcycle belts advertised and used nowadays are steel, not rubber. The cycle of my dreams was driven by a rubber belt identical to the fan belt on an automobile—can you believe it! The name of the bike has faded from my memory, lost in the dim mists of the past, but I believe it was called a Service Cycle, or perhaps a Servi-cycle—anyway, something on that order.

Apparently your response was lost in the mail because I never received an answer, and in our contacts in later years the subject was never broached. It’s also possible, of course, that you never received the letter. No matter—that’s a moot point in view of the fact that I lost my exalted newspaper delivery boy status soon after that—I was fired by the son of a—no, not that kind of son—I was fired by the son of the owner of the Commercial Dispatch, a junior unless my memory fails me.

If they provide you with a computer where you are, you can Google my version of the incident here—the true version, regardless of what that son of a—well, regardless of other versions, whether of the home owner involved or the Circulation Manager of the Commercial Dispatch.

I’m sorry that I was not able to attend your funeral back in the fall of 1983. When our sister, Jessie, called my hotel room in Arlington, Virginia, I was preparing to leave for National Airport—now Ronald Reagan International—to board a plane for Miami. I was in Washington on a 90-day special detail, and the trip to Miami was very important to my assignment in Washington, an assignment that culminated in a promotion to a higher level in the U.S. Customs hierarchy, a significant increase in salary and a three-year stay at Customs’ national headquarters.

All things are possible, of course—I could have canceled my flight, but the cancellation and my failure to participate in the activities in Miami would have made a major difference in my burgeoning career. I know my apology is rather belated because  27 years have passed since that day, but at least I’m making the effort now to express my regrets.

Larry, I remember that you like jokes, and I intend to include some of yours in future letters to remind you of the jokes you told me and the songs I learned from you. Just as a sample, I’ll show one of those ditties—it is hilarious!

There was an old woman that lived in the grass,
And when she bent over you could see her . . .
Ruffles and tuffels and also her tucks,
She said she was learning a new way to . . . .
Bring up her daughters and teach them to knit
While the boys in the barnyard were shoveling up . . . .
Contents of the stables and also the sod
And if that isn’t poetry I’ll hang by my . . . .

I must tell you that I am using this letter-writing method on the premise of contacting you because of my daughters. I’m sure you remember them, but perhaps not their children. Debbie is the elder of the three, Cindy was born seven years later and Kelley just four years after that. All are well and loving life. Debbie is married and has a grown son and daughter, Cindy is married and has two cats and numerous species of aquarium fish, and Kelley is married and has a young son and daughter, both in grade school.

All three women would like to know more about our family, and my middle daughter, Cindy, has convinced me that the best way to inform them of their grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins is for me to convey the information in the form of a letter to each relative. This letter to you is the second letter I’ve written. The first was to our sister Hattie, the little girl that only lived one day after her birth in 1917, just two years before you were born. You can Google it here if you would like to read the letter. Neither of us knew her on earth, but perhaps you have met her in the hereafter—if so, please give her our love and best regards.

Here are a couple of off-beat poems I’ve carried around in my brain for many years. I realize that this letter is rather somber in nature, and perhaps this will lighten things up a bit:

An epitaph found on an old tombstone:

Know, my friend, as you pass by
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, soon you will be,
Prepare yourself to follow me.

Some wag added this below the epitaph:

To follow you
I’m not content,
Until I know
Which way you went.

Larry, you and I were together for brief periods, widely spaced, and away from each other for years at a time. Those years covered more than a half-century—51 of them, from the year of my birth to the year of your death. Other than the two years or so that I lived with you and your family in Maryland and for a few weeks in El Paso, Texas we were together for very short periods of time. We may think we know each other, but I don’t believe that we know each other very well.

Much of what I know, or think I know, about you comes from you—you’ve told me many things about yourself and about incidents and people that I never knew, so my knowledge must be considered secondhand at its best—hearsay, if you will—because I wasn’t there. I intend to discuss those incidents and people based on your stories for the benefit of my children, to help them understand our relationship to each other and to other family members. By the time I finish, if in fact I ever finish, there should be a good-sized portfolio of letters such as this one.

And be forewarned—some of the things I will discuss are a bit far out and in certain instances bear the scent of braggadocio, but as the little boy accused of bragging said, If you done it, it ain’t bragging!

Larry, you should consider this letter a harbinger of things to come, the first of many. I’ll talk about locations and events and people, some that you knew and I didn’t, and some that I know and you didn’t. Throughout the process I will make every effort to document the source of my information. Those other than you that read the letters can either accept them as fact or dismiss them as fiction, and you of course have the same choice. Whichever you and they choose to do, I promise that everyone will be enlightened, and perhaps even entertained, in the process.

I’ll get back to you with more details. Please take care of yourself.

Lots of love,

Mike


 
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Posted by on July 29, 2010 in Family, newspapers

 

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Letter to the editor, San Antonio Express-News: Mayhem on campus . . .

In the interests of full disclosure: This posting was not published by the San Antonio Express-News, the only daily newspaper in the second-largest city in Texas and the seventh-largest in the United States. My decision to not submit it for consideration was based on its premise, its length and my experiences with rejection in the past.

Also in the interests of full disclosure: I served as a member of the U.S. military for 22 years and another 26 years as a federal law-enforcement officer. As a result of that combined 48 years, I am not completely unfamiliar with the various ways and means one might use to commit mayhem on campus.

Mayhem on Delaware campus:

A six-year old boy in a Delaware school was recently sentenced to a five-day suspension and 45 days in a reform school for bringing a Cub Scout camping knife to class. The item was given to him when he joined the Cub Scouts. It combines a fork, spoon and knife in one tool, a tool indispensable to every Cub Scout and Boy Scout—I’m uncertain whether such tool is given to Girl Scouts and/or Brownies, and if given, whether it would be indispensable to them.

The Delaware school has a zero-tolerance policy on students bringing to school any item that could possibly be used as a weapon. The incident has gone national in our media, and many people feel that in this instance the school has gone too far, that it has overreached in its efforts to protect students from harm (and to protect themselves from lawsuits).

No, I say—they have not overreached. On the contrary, they have fallen far short. Their action indicates a lack of attention to detail—they can’t see the forest for the trees.

In any school on any day, there are many items that can be used to maim and kill. These are items that are immediately available to all students and faculty members, items as deadly or deadlier than a Cub Scout camping tool, yet they are not prohibited by the school administrators—either they are unaware of their potential for maiming and killing, or they feel that the utility of the items outweighs that potential.

Let’s make the policy on weapons in our schools truly zero-tolerance at every level, from pre-kindergartens to kindergartens to elementary schools to middle schools to high schools and to all schools awarding advanced degrees. The threat is the same at all levels. The only difference is the ages of the people involved.

Let’s ban every item that could possibly be used by a student to kill or maim another—and we probably should extend this policy to faculty members—one could always go postal (forgive me, USPS) and attempt to take out a few students or other faculty members.

All those items—every one—should be removed and banned in order to protect the children and faculty.

Let’s start with the school cafeteria:

Do the students use metal flatware in the lunchroom? If so, all metal knives and forks and spoons must be removed—each tool, even the spoon, can be used with deadly results.

Do the students use plastic tableware? If so, all plastic knives, forks and spoons must be removed. We routinely use plastic forks to stab a chicken breast to hold it in place while we cut it with a plastic knife. And yes, a plastic spoon has fine edges and can cause damage—if held properly and applied forcefully, it could easily remove an eye.

So how do we handle a zero-tableware policy? The answer is obvious—restrict the students to finger foods. And while I’m on the subject of fingers, those digits, thumbs as well as fingers, were used in early times with deadly results—they were used to blind convicted criminals by gouging out their eyes, and are still used with deadly results in gang fights on streets and in our alleys, and probably in certain Middle East, Asian and African countries.

On further thought even a stiff finger, especially the middle one, will put out an eye if properly directed with enough force into the eye of one student by another.

If you’re wondering how to deal with those deadly thumbs and fingers, that answer is also obvious—simply require students to wear mittens at all times while on school property. Also obvious is the fact that mittens would seriously impede certain activities, including writing, scratching an itch, using restroom facilities, etc. Such activities would be handled (so to speak) as they arise, possibly by a one-on-one policy of having a faculty member supervise any activity that would require the removal and replacement of one or both mittens. Such supervision would, of course, be costly—additional personnel would be required to serve as restroom monitors and in numerous other areas. One possible alternative would be to appoint a second student as monitor, and that student could assist a fellow student in such instances. In some circumstances, particularly in rest-room visits, the team should be comprised of same-sex students. Special training for identity-definition and identity-recognition will probably be required for faculty members in higher grades. Such training should reduce the possibility of appointing rest-room teams comprised of other than same-sex students.

Pencils—particularly sharpened pencils—and ball-point pens must go. Pencils and pens, held properly between two fingers of a clenched fist with the point outward and the top pressing against the heel of the hand, can maim and kill.

Press the point into an ear and push, and the eardrum is ruptured. Press the point into an eye and push, and the eye is destroyed. Press the point into the neck toward the jugular vein and push—the jugular could be punctured and the victim will bleed to death. Press the point between two ribs with enough force and internal organs can be punctured. Think about that for a moment.

Has anyone ever noticed that airport security personnel never confiscate pencils or ball-point pens? Has anyone ever noticed that security personnel at federal buildings never confiscate pencils or pens? Think about that for a moment.

Wooden rulers with a metal edge built in to facilitate paper tearing can be used to maim and kill. The metal edge is very thin, and wielded properly will slice deeply into human skin. With a strong swing and a keen eye, a child can cut deeply into another child’s neck and possibly sever the jugular vein. Even a plastic ruler will do major damage when wielded with enough force.

Any pin such as a broach or smiley-face button (and God forbid, any campaign button) can be used with equal effectiveness. Hold the item with the pin outward, as with a pencil or pen, and push or slash with force and major damage to the skin will result.

Heavy metal items abound in a school environment, items that can be wielded with enough force, even by a small child, to main and kill, including staplers, hole punches, hammers and (by larger children or staff members) folding metal chairs. Look around—see how many offensive weapons are available to any student intent on hurting another student—or teacher.

Belts and shoelaces can be used offensively and should be viewed as deadly weapons. Belts with a heavy buckle can be swung with deadly force, and either a belt or a tie can be used as a garrote. Shoelaces can be tied together and used as a garrote. Police require arrestees to give up belts, ties and shoelaces before entering a cell. This precaution is taken to prevent the arrestee from attempting suicide, but it’s also meant to protect the officers.

All the children (and the teachers) must therefore give up belts, ties and shoelaces while in school. Considering the way some boys wear their trousers, some will have a problem. Since any maiming necessarily requires the use of one hand at a minimum, the lack of a belt may reduce or prevent such incidents. Any potential maiming, by a person using both hands while wearing low-riders, would subject such person to additional charges such as indecent exposure and intent to commit a sexual assault.

This is a posting in progress—there are many more items that should be removed from the environment in which our children spend some one-third of every day while schools are in session.

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

Postscript:

The School Board has reconsidered its decision in the Delaware case. The members of the Board have significantly reduced the boy’s sentence, and are making significant adjustments to the school’s zero-tolerance policy.

 

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