Tag Archives: brain

Revisit: Captain, or engineer? Ship, or train? (via The King of Texas)

Captain, or engineer? Ship, or train? Some believe and some say, and some even teach, that each of us is the captain of our ship, steering it and our lives through the gentle swells of calm seas and crashing waves of gale-lashed waters across oceans, some dotted with tropical islands and others filled with icebergs. The analogy of our journey through life as the master and captain of our ship is exemplified by this poem: Invictus Out of the night that covers me, Black as the pit from … Read More

via The King of Texas

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Posted by on January 23, 2011 in death, Uncategorized


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An ode to newlyweds . . .

The comment that follows is one that I posted concerning a photograph of newlyweds my daughter placed on her blog. The middle one of three daughters, she is the one that lives, loves, laughs, labors and lingers with her husband in Northern Virginia (my favorite  daughter and my favorite son-in-law, but don’t tell the others). Click here to see her original post entitled,  After the rain . . .

Before making the comment I e-mailed her for permission to use the photograph and to provide an advance reading of the comment. This is the comment as I posted it:

I have labored long and strong to produce this comment. Brilliant poetry does not come easy for semi-literate persons—it takes a lot of erasing and changing, and I’m submitting it for your consideration. Depending on your decision—to keep or delete—that is the question.

I will either post it verbatim or I will return it to the bowels of my brain and save it for some other use, but mark my words: It will be published, somewhere for some reason, without photos, of course. I may submit it for competition in the search for the world’s best poem.

A beautiful bubbly bride in a gorgeous gown, a handsome, albeit hairless, groom with the Garden of Eden beckoning in the background—one cannot resist speculating on whether at the end of the ceremony the couple will go hence, as did Adam and Eve, into the Garden—into the bushes, so to speak—and if such be the case that gown, already precariously balanced and threatening to succumb to the effects of gravity, will quickly be weighted down with beggar lice and cockle burrs, and that weight added to the pull of the earth’s center and the predictable possibility of the groom stepping on the gown’s train, accidentally of course, will produce predictable results, and from that spurious speculation springs a poetical predilection:

An ode to newlyweds

Hark! What is that I see?
Is that an apple on yon tree?

And does a serpent nearby lurk,
Upon its lips an evil smirk?

And will that tale of Bible lore,
As in the long gone days of yore,

Perhaps repeat itself once more?

Hark! Not from that apple on the tree,
Nor from the serpent hanging ‘round,

Did life began for thee and me,
‘Twas from that pear on the ground.

Anonymous? Not really. I’m guilty. I wrote it. All by myself.

The poem includes one homonym—betcha  can’t find it!

Just a tiny hint: It’s one of a pair of words that sound alike, but are spelled differently and have different meanings—note the word pair in this sentence and the word pear in the poem.

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


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First kiss, first train ride, first bicycle . . .

A preview: Her name was Joyce, the train ride was from Memphis to Washington, D.C. and the bike was blue.

Events leading up to the three firsts . . .

Sometimes when I look back over my shoulder the past is shrouded in the mists of time, and dates and places and people and events appear crowded together and all trying to be in the front row, hoping for recognition and a trip from the past to the present. Some things are irrevocably fixed in my memory but others are hazy and must be tailored to adapt to whatever story I’m telling at the time. An astute reader may find that some dates overlap—in some instances I may have the cart before the horse, but the error is inadvertent, and I will place a standing apology for such errors—hey, I’m almost 78 years old—I have earned the right to err occasionally.

For several years my wife and I collected gnomes, small statues created by Tom Clark, a retired priest that lives and creates in North Carolina. Folklore has it that the gnomes move around during the night, visiting other gnomes, and sometimes do not return to the place they left. Several times over the years I have found a gnome at a place different than I remembered it had been. Memories are very similar—we search for a thought in the place we believe it should be, but eventually find it in another by relating it to something different—if we find it at all!

I believe that we—my mother, my sister Dot and I—left Columbus, Mississippi in the winter of 1944 when I  was twelve and traveled by bus to Durant, Mississippi, a small town northeast of Jackson. My mother was an LVN, a licensed vocational nurse, and for a year or two she tended a bedridden elderly widow in Durant. My mother’s compensation for that task was the income generated by a large house owned by the invalid, a house that had been converted into several apartments. Her patient also lived there and my mother furnished around-the-clock nursing care for her.

Our family had a furnished apartment at no cost with all utilities paid, and my mother managed the facility. She rented the apartments, collected the rents and maintained the house—anything left over was hers, part of the salary agreement between her and the widow’s son—when the rents fell short of their agreement, he supplemented her salary as necessary.

Our move to Durant was during a period of a forced separation from our stepfather, one created by him as were all the other times we were thrown out to continue our lives as best as we could. A few weeks earlier we were living on a forty-acre farm some 12 miles from Columbus, Mississippi. My sister and I bolted out of the house one morning following an altercation with our stepfather. We ran out to the middle of the road, and he called us back to the house from the front porch. When we refused, he said he was going for his shotgun and we left at top speed, running toward the woods bordering the graveled road we were running on. We stayed hidden in the woods while our mother and stepfather rode back and forth in the car calling us to come back home. We remained hidden until they finally gave up on us. Click here for a detailed explanation of the incident. We left the farm that morning and never went back.

My first kiss . . .

Now on to the salacious stuff—no, nothing x-rated. I refer specifically and respectfully, to my first real kiss-in-the-face, a memorable kiss bestowed on me by a girl that was a bit taller and a few months older than I, and here I will hasten to add that while it was my first osculation, it was far from her first—in retrospect and in view of subsequent similar situations, I would have to give her a perfect 10 in the art of kissing.

Her name was Joyce, and her father owned and operated a small radio repair shop just off Main Street in Durant. Her house was only a few blocks from the shop, and I was invited to a party there. When I arrived the guests—all teenagers and no adults present—were playing a game called Spin the Bottle—the name of the game was familiar, but in all my twelve years I had never played the game, simply because I had never had the opportunity.

All the players stood around in a circle and one player placed a bottle on the floor in the center of the circle and gave it a hard spin. When the bottle stopped spinning, the spinner and the pointee were required to kiss—not a cheek kiss or an air kiss, but a real kiss-in-the-mouth kiss. No, there was none of that same-sex stuff. If the spinner was a girl and the bottle pointed at another girl, the spinner kept spinning until it pointed at a boy, and if the spinner was a boy—well, you get the picture. Yes, we were having a gay old time, but in those days gay meant something very different than it does today. And yes, we were all high, but from the salt on potato chips and the sugar in Pepsi—those were the good old days! Pot was something my mother used for cooking, and crack was—well, crack, whether the verb or the noun, certainly meant things other than cocaine crystals!

I joined the game as one of those in the circle, and Joyce was in the center when I joined. It was her floor and her bottle, and I’m reasonably sure that she had played the game before and knew how to control the bottle’s revolutions, just like the people running the roulette wheels in Las Vegas. She gave the bottle a spin and when it stopped it was pointed at me, and the rest is history.

I would like to say that with that first kiss I heard angels singing, a mighty host on high, but the only thing I heard was Joyce groaning during the kiss, low-voiced but clearly audible, a long string of low voiced uumm, uumm, uumms, etc. I was there, of course, but Joyce had a firm grip on my head and both my ears, and she used my mouth and my lips and my tongue in bestowing the kiss, but I had absolutely no control over any part of the process. I would like to say that I tingled all over, in places that I had never before tingled, but I can’t say that—well, I had tingled all over before, but never from a kiss.

The part of the kiss I remember most is the tongue—mine, not hers. I thought my tongue was a goner, but I finally managed to extract it with only a small hickey at the tip, and I talked with a slight lisp for several days afterward—I also walked with a slight limp.  At this point, in the interests of self-preservation and showing the proper respect to the fairer sex, I’ll have nothing more to say on the subject of Joyce and my first kiss.

My first train ride . . .

Around Christmas time in 1946 I stuffed my pitifully sparse wardrobe into a small metal trunk, loaded it into Papa John’s 1939 Plymouth sedan in mid-afternoon and left Durant in the rear view mirror, en route to Memphis, Tennessee, a distance of 152 miles. With us hurtling along at 45 miles per hour, the trip took four hours. Papa’s plan was to spend the night in Memphis and  put me on a train to Washington, D.C. early the next morning. I could have traveled to Memphis by train, but that would have required a change in Memphis—I have no doubt that my mother insisted on the trip by auto—Papa would have cheerfully waved goodbye to me had the train been headed west to California.

We arrived in Memphis in late afternoon and checked in at a hotel for the night. When we walked in, Papa strode to the front desk, an imposing figure dressed in a long-sleeved western-cut khaki shirt with a black tie held in place with a gold-and-silver tie clasp of a western boot spur and rowel, khaki western-cut trousers, tan sombrero and cowboy boots, twirling a stout cudgel he laughingly called a walking stick, and said, Good afternoon, my good man, I would like to speak to the manager. The clerk obligingly stepped to the back and returned with a person he introduced as the manager.

Papa told the manager that we would be in his fair city overnight and required accommodations for two. Yep, a third-rate hotel located near the train terminal in a seedy rundown section of the city, and he acted as though it was the Waldorf-Astoria. The manager personally made the room assignment, probably with the full belief that he was dealing with a Texas tycoon. As you may have already guessed, Papa put on a good show.

Now fast forward to my arrival in Washington at Union Station where I was met by my brother. I say fast forward because I have no recollection of the rest of my stay in Memphis, nothing of the room or a restaurant that evening or the next morning, or of boarding the train early the next morning—if it’s still in my memory banks they refuse to give it up. I hasten to add that I have not suppressed any memories because of any calamitous event—it’s simply that the interval between the conversation at the front desk and my arrival at Union Station is unmemorable—even though it was my very first train ride, I have retained no memories of it—I remember well and can clearly visualize my arrival at Union Station, me brother meeting me and the drive to my brother’s house.

In the seven years between my mother’s marriage to my stepfather and my enlistment in the military, I was little more than a tumbleweed, moved hither and thither at the whim of the prevailing winds. A shift in the breezes and I was off a tangent or reversed direction, bound for one state or another, one city or another, put off—or put on, perhaps—one relative or another for one reason or another. To put it another way, I was a rolling stone, but believe me, I gathered lots of moss in the form of memories that lurk in the recesses of a brain approaching the end of its eighth decade of compiling and filing people, places and particles of thought.

My first bicycle . . .

The bicycle was new, blue with cream accents, packed in a huge cardboard box, fully assembled except for the handlebars and pedals. My brother brought it home early in the evening, and I removed it from the box and started putting on the pedals and the handlebars, but my brother stopped me. He told me to take the bike apart, in as many pieces as I could, to clean the wheel bearings of their prepacked factory grease and replace the grease with a special brand he used on his fleet of trucks. Then I could reassemble the bike and ride it. I grumbled mightily, but I did as I was told—I learned early on that my brother didn’t back down on any orders he gave.

By the time I broke the bicycle down into its smallest pieces, cleaned and repacked the bearings and reassembled everything it was after 10 pm, but I put the bike through its paces, and rode around the neighborhood for more than an hour. I don’t believe that any gift I have ever been given, or any gift that I have given myself, has ever given me as much pleasure as I experienced that night—well, I suppose there are things that have given me, and still give me, as much pleasure, but they don’t last nearly as long as that bike’s did! And I brought it home to Mississippi, lashed to the rear bumper when Larry and I left Maryland.

Our leaving Maryland is a story in itself—our departure was the result of events that included an illicit tryst of a couple at a drive-in theater, each married to another person, the discovery of that tryst by the husband of the woman, a bottle of sleeping pills and a pint of whiskey, events and elements that resulted in a separation and ultimately a divorce and a division of properties and the custody of two children given to their mother. I’ll get back to you later with more details.

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


Posted by on August 18, 2010 in Family, trains, Travel


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Captain, or engineer? Ship, or train?

Some believe and some say, and some even teach, that each of us is the captain of our ship, steering it and our lives through the gentle swells of calm seas and crashing waves of gale-lashed waters across oceans, some dotted with tropical islands and others filled with icebergs. The analogy of our journey through life as the master and captain of our ship is exemplified by this poem:


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance,
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
William Ernest Henley, 1849–1903

Rather than the captain of a ship, I consider myself to be the engineer of my train. I have no helpers—no switchman, brakeman, signalman, fireman, conductor, oilman and no mechanic. I am the sole occupant on the train, controlling its freight and its movements through life with the various switches and gauges and handles available to me—and trust me, they are many and varied.

My travel through life is not limited to any existing railroad lines or tracks. My train is capable of laying its own roadbed. No matter where I choose to go, the track will always be there and I travel on it at my own speed, without regard to other traffic or intersections or crossroads.

Rumbling and swaying behind me on the track is a string of railroad cars, a string that lengthens as life goes on. In that line are railroad cars of every description and function—coal tenders, box cars, flat cars, hopper cars, passenger cars, cars of every description and every color, cars capable of holding and hauling anything and everything ever owned, including businesses and cars and houses and pets and airplanes and even islands.

Those railroad cars hold everything ever taught, everything ever learned, every job, every action ever taken, every thought and every deed done, whether good or evil. They carry every love ever found and every love ever lost, whether love for a person or a place, or for an animal or an idea, and they carry every friend ever made and lost, every enemy ever made and every antagonist ever faced.

I’m reasonably sure that you, dear reader, have already deduced that my train is my brain. The cars that I haul are the compartments of my brain, and in those compartments repose every thought I have ever had—memories of everything that I have learned and done are being hauled by the railroad cars. They are always there, although sometimes some of them are not always available to me—that seems to be a condition that increases in direct proportion to age.

The poem that follows pertains to those that do not understand or are unwilling to accept the responsibilities of an engineer, believing that their own train is run—engineered, so to speak—by someone other than themselves. Since all life ultimately ends, those folks may possibly—with emphasis on possibly—be in for a surprise! The poem’s origin is unknown, at least to me, but it could well be titled:

Plaint of a Non-engineer

I’m not allowed to run the train,
The whistle I can’t blow . . .
I’m not allowed to say how far
The railroad cars may go.

I’m not allowed to let off steam,
Nor even clang the bell . . .
But let the damn thing jump the track
And see who catches hell!

After awhile—eventually, ultimately, inevitably, inexorably and conclusively, we will hand over the controls of our train and its cars, loaded with the thoughts and deeds of our lives, to the Central Dispatcher and we will arrive at our final destination—no, make that our penultimate stop, the one next to the last.

Our freight—our baggage, so to speak—accumulated over a lifetime will be off-loaded, weighed, categorized, tabulated and compared to established factors in order to determine our ultimate destination. Some of us may protest the final decision, but bear in mind that the deciding factors will have been available for consideration, beginning with our first breath and continuing to our last.

Enough said?

A brief postscript:

I have been criticized, constructively of course, for the length of my postings. Evidently some viewers are so busy loading their train and maneuvering it around various obstacles, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, that they have little time for reading. This posting is relatively short, so I’ll close it with a metaphor, an apology for the length of my stories.

In my writings I am somewhat similar to the drunk—similar to, mind you, but not the drunk—that made a bet with another drunk in the bar, with the loser agreeing to take a drink from one of the bar’s cuspidors, commonly called a spittoon.. The loser raised the spittoon to his lips and emptied it, and the shocked winner told him he didn’t have to do that. The loser replied that he had no choice because it was all in one piece—as are my postings.

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


Posted by on July 25, 2010 in death, religion, ships, trains, Travel


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Bus driver, or cowboy . . .

Preamble: A preliminary statement, especially the introduction to a formal document that serves to explain its purpose.

A preamble is normally written before a document—I’m adding this preamble after I posted the document below. My daughter, the one that lives, loves and works in Northern Virginia, the one that I love best, but don’t tell the other two daughters I said that—tasked me with answering several questions concerning the person in this photo. In the interests of levity, I assumed the character of a criminal investigator in analyzing the photo in response to my daughter’s request. I identified her merely as a relative in Virginia, and she took umbrage—this addition to the posting is my attempt to correct my blunder.  And in the interests of full disclosure, I am not now, nor have I ever been, nor will I ever be a criminal investigator, not in Washington DC or any other location. I merely presented myself as such in order to bolster my analysis of the photo.

The photo is an accurate depiction of my mother’s youngest son—me—and virtually all of the information I posted is true. The only time I seriously strayed from the truth was the part about  studying photos from various high school yearbooks while working in the Washington DC area—I freely admit that it was a real whopper! However, that I worked in that area for three years is a true statement—so help me, you know Who.

Here is the original posting, unchanged. The only difference is the addition of the preamble above—my search for an antonym to preamble was fruitless. I suppose we could call it a postamblewe could run that term up the flagpole and see who salutes it!

I recently received this photo from a relative in Virginia, accompanied with a request for me to apply the training I received over many years in the field of law enforcement and answer as many of the questions below as I could, with the answers based on the expertise I acquired—expertise in the use of observational techniques and in the questioning routines I used in conversations with subjects suspected of various crimes.

These are the questions:

Tell me something about this fella—-where he was mentally and physically at this time…How old was he? What was he was thinking about? What aspirations did he have?  He looks so pensive and serious. What was he dreaming about?

It was an unusual request, but it posed a challenge for me. There are, of course, more visual and physical traits to be observed when faced with the actual suspect, but some definitive conclusions can be reached simply by studying a photograph.

This young man, for example, has an exceptionally well-formed head with an Adonis-like visage. Each feature—eyes, ears, nose, mouth, cheekbones and chin—are in perfect harmony with the other features. Any observer would view him as a handsome young lad, undoubtedly popular with the girls and envied by his male peers. That beautifully coiffed hair places the boy in the company of Narcissus, and at this age the lad undoubtedly spent lots of time looking into a mirror. Narcissus, of course, fell in love with a reflection in a pool, not realizing it was his own. The photograph reflects no doubt—this young fellow knows exactly what he sees in the mirror and he is well-pleased with the image, a pleasure bordering on self-adulation.

Whether this teenager ever enjoyed any significant contacts with the opposite sex based on his looks would be pure speculation, and an investigator never, ever speculates—any investigative conclusions must be based on demonstrable facts.

Some conclusions may instantly be made—the photo is that of a young boy, perhaps in his early to middle teen years—he is white, Anglo-Saxon, with perhaps a bit of the old Irish in him. His age is  somewhere between fourteen and fifteen years. He has a delightful sprinkling of freckles, indicating that most of his years have been spent in sunny southern climes in a state, or states, well below the Mason-Dixon line. The hair style is representative of those affected by youths in the middle to late 1940s. I believe this photo was taken in late 1946 or early in 1947.

The source of the photo can often be helpful. One can deduce that the photo is not the work of a professional portrait studio. If it were, it would show the company’s name and logo near the lower edge—Olan Mills, for example. By an unusual coincidence, I worked in the Washington, D.C. area for three years, and on an unrelated assignment I studied student photos in the yearbooks of  several schools in the DC area—although some 13 years have passed since the assignment, I still vividly remember the photos.

This photo, judging by the pose of the subject and the clarity of the portrait, matches very closely the attributes of yearbook photos taken of students at Suitland High School in the city of Suitland, Maryland—the photo in question was published in that school’s year book for the period cited.

An astute observer will instantly be drawn to the left eye—it’s ever so slightly squinted, caused by a deliberate but subtle lowering of the eye’s upper lid. No definite conclusions can be drawn from that squint, but  here are some possible causes:

It could be that the photographer is an attractive young female, and her subject is speculating on his chances of getting it on with her, a term similar with today’s term of making out. It could be that the photographer is a school staff member, one for which the subject has no particular fondness—the squint could be saying, “Don’t screw it up—either do it right, or don’t do it!”

That squint is, perhaps, in imitation of some Hollywood actor favored by the subject, and is thus used in such situations. I must confess that I use it, but infrequently, and I believe that one of my own three offspring also utilizes the squint as needed in certain situations.

This unusual and interesting habit of squinting one eye is sometimes reflected in a person or persons closely associated with the squinter—a brother or sister, or a relative of the squinter, perhaps a daughter or son—daughters and sons sometimes tend to imitate one or more habitual physical traits exhibited by their father.

That squinted left eye leaves me with the thought that this lad did, for one reason or another, not complete the current school year at this high school. He probably dropped out of class near the end of the second semester. His failure to complete the year may have been caused by having to relocate in a distant city, or because he converted his thoughts concerning the photographer into action, or perhaps he broke his leg while playing in an American Legion Little League baseball game, or for some other completely unrelated reason.

As for this lad’s aspirations for the future, that’s very difficult to discern. My best guess is that his aspirations at that time were similar to those of Jethro, of Beverly Hillbillies fame—Jethro vacillated between becoming a brain surgeon or a short-order cook.

I believe this lad, at this time in his life, vacillated between becoming an old-time cowboy, broad of shoulder and tall—yeah, good luck with that—and lean of hip, with steely gray eyes perpetually squinted from checking the horizon for Indians and badmen—either that, or a bus driver.

Of course I could be wrong.


Posted by on February 19, 2010 in actor and acting, Humor, PHOTOGRAPHY, sports, Writing


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