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Thoughts on Jane Russell, death & Dragnet

An article in San Antonio’s Express-News—the only daily newspaper in the seventh largest city in the United States—on Monday, 28 February 2011 states that the cause of death for Jane Russell, the generously endowed star of Howard Hughes’ 1941 movie The Outlaw, was respiratory failure. Stop me if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t respiratory failure be the cause of death in every instance? I should think that whatever other condition caused the respiratory apparatus to fail would be the real cause of death.

Let’s at least agree on this point—when we say that death was caused by respiratory failure, we are saying that the departed stopped breathing, a term equivalent to saying that someone died because the heart stopped beating. That isn’t enough—we need to know why the departed stopped breathing and why the heart stopped beating. Either of those actions, or their failure to act, will cause the other to happen—when the heart stops beating the breathing also stops, and when the breathing stops the heart stops beating, and neither is the actual cause of death.

Each of us has the innate ability to contribute to the world’s store of statistics, other than just the statistic of having died, and the opportunity to make that contribution is given to us at the time of our death, namely the cause of our death. Was it by our own hand, thereby joining the ranks of suicide statistics? Was it suicide by firearm, hanging, wrist-cutting or a heart attack caused by an overdose of Viagra? As the immortal Jack Webb would say, speaking as Detective Joe Friday in his role as a police detective in the black-and-white television show Dragnet, We just want the facts, M’am, just the facts.

I realize that the Jack Webb skit above is not germane to this posting, but I wanted to show him in action and share his sleuthing techniques with my viewers. I know, I know—I have a lot of time on my hands. There are too many wrongs in this world and too little time to right them, but I will soldierly strive on in my efforts—it’s in my nature.

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

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Parched peanuts and skin crawling . . .

In the fall of my sixteenth year I lived with a farm family in the rural western central area of Alabama. Their farm was one of the Reconstruction era land parcels that were passed out after the end of the Civil War. It originally consisted of 40 acres and a mule, and in 1948, having passed down through some four generations (not of the same family, of course), still boasted the same 40 acres and a mule—not the same mule but one that, without a doubt, remarkably resembled the original, with the same long ears and same surly disposition, but with the same desirable work traits.

The family was comprised of four souls—the wife (my first cousin), the husband (not related to me or to his wife, other than by marriage) and two sons, both under the age of five years. My mother had decided that it would be beneficial for me to live with them and help out around the house and the 40 acres, and in return for that help the family would house me, feed me, clothe me and educate me.

Such a deal!

I arrived on the farm with a small metal trunk, a pitifully small amount of clothing and a pedigreed  pit bulldog named Buster, a fine and faithful companion, registered with the American Kennel Club as Mars but my brother, the original owner, had named him Buster. I inherited Buster when my brother returned to active duty with the U. S. Army after an absence of several years. My trunk, my dog and I joined the family on the farm in September after the school term had begun.

No mention was made of my being enrolled in the eleventh grade, and I happily maintained my silence. The helping out, however, began immediately. A trip to the nearest town some five miles distant to a dry goods store outfitted me with two pairs of overalls—one pair to wear and one pair to spare, and a pair of sturdy work shoes known as brogans. Some folks referred to them as clodhoppers, and some applied the same term to the wearers of such shoes. Perhaps some of my readers are unfortunate enough to have never worn overalls and therefore may be unfamiliar with such garments. If that be the case, those readers can click here for a detailed description. That posting also tells a story featuring a blue-eyed snake.

And now to my original reason for this posting, namely the parching of peanuts and situations related thereto. The term parched in regard to peanuts may be unfamiliar to some—perhaps roasted would be a more familiar term. On many cool fall evenings and cold winter evenings, the family gathered around an open fireplace and ate parched peanuts. The peanuts, having dried since harvested, were placed on a shallow metal roasting pan and roasted in the shell in the kitchen stove oven, and afterward the pan was placed on the fireplace hearth to keep the peanuts warm and accessible. One needed only to scoop up a handful of peanuts, then sit back, shell and enjoy.

The lady of the house, my first cousin, had a habit of rustling among the peanuts searching for those with scorched shells, saying that they had more flavor. Her moving the peanuts around on metal, with her fingernails sometimes coming in contact with the metal, produced a really irritating sound, one that, as the saying goes, made one’s flesh crawl, a phenomenon that I communicated to my cousin.

I told her that I wished she wouldn’t do that, and she said, “Why not?’ And I took the bait she offered—nay, I took the bait and hook and line and sinker. I said, “Because it makes my flesh crawl.” Her immediate response was, “How did your butt smell when it passed your face?”

Bummer!

Pretty funny, huh? I plotted and schemed for the next several weeks, doing anything and everything I could to produce a sound that would make her flesh crawl, and I finally hit on one. I was cleaning a mirror—voluntarily, and by briskly rubbing the clean glass I made a loud screeching sound and she reacted as I hoped she would. She told me to stop doing that, and I asked her the same question she had asked me. I said “Why?” and she predictably said that it made her flesh crawl.

Oh, boy, oh boy! I said, “How did your butt smell when it passed your face?” She snapped back, “It smelled like it had been licked—how did it taste?”

Bummer again!

I left the family and the farm in late December and traveled some 35 miles by bus to visit my mother and sister in Mississippi. I returned early in January, and en route on my two-mile walk on the graveled road from the paved highway to the farm, I stopped to visit an aunt that lived in the house of my birth. She told me that my cousin’s husband had killed my dog soon after I left for Mississippi.

None of the family was home when I arrived. I packed my belongings and started dragging the trunk  back to the paved highway to wait for the next interstate bus. Luckily a neighboring farmer came along in his Model T Ford and gave me and my trunk a ride to the highway—had he not come by I would probably still be walking—that trunk was pretty heavy, what with the brogans and overalls.

There was a reason my cousin’s husband killed my dog—not a reasonable reason—but I’ll save it for a later posting of some of my exploits—and my exploitation—while playing the part of a farm boy. I have never been back to the house since that day, and I never saw the husband or the two boys again. I trust that they fared well and are still faring well—unless they grew up to be like their father.

I know he died many years ago, but I never knew how the boys may have fared in their lives. Many years later I saw my cousin briefly, just long enough to learn that she had divorced her husband  shortly after I left, and a few years later met and bonded closely—I mean, like really closely—with another woman and eventually became a suicide, taking her own life with a firearm. I don’t know how the other woman fared, nor am I curious about it.

There are many more titillating, interesting, educational, emotional, humorous and fascinating tales I will tell concerning my brief sojourn as an indentured servant on an Alabama farm, but I’ll save them for later postings.

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

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2010 in Childhood, Family, Humor, Writing

 

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Letter to the editor, Express-News—S. A. cop shoots man with knife . . .

Letter to the editor, Express—News

March 10, 2010

P.O. Box 2171

San Antonio TX 78297

Please accept my compliments for your report on the use of a hitherto unknown weapon available to our police officers, as reported in today’s issue of San Antonio’s only daily newspaper. The development of the new weapon and its procurement were unknown to me until today’s issue arrived and had been read. The prompt for this submission was an incident that was reported  on page 2B in the News Roundup feature of the Metro section. I was pleased to note that our city is well ahead of the curve for innovative additions to the arsenal of weapons available to our uniformed police. The innovation pleased me, but the writing gave me no pleasure. This was the item’s heading:

S. A. cop shoots man with knife

In accordance with current journalism practices, details pertinent to the heading were given in the first paragraph, effectively setting the scene for the reader:

A San Antonio police officer shot a man Tuesday night after he ran at officers wielding a butcher’s knife on the South Side, officials said.

The author—or authors—used an estimated 200 additional words to cover the events that followed the shooting, but no more details on the new weapon were given. I had no interest in subsequent events—my attention was riveted on the heading and on the first paragraph, one that featured a single sentence, pithily constructed. While pleased at the introduction of the new weapon, I was fascinated by the ambiguities contained in the heading and its first paragraph.

The heading—S. A. cop shoots man with knife—was a bit ambiguous, but clear enough for any reader to surmise that—or at least possibly that— a combination of knife and pistol was used. However, the paragraph that followed was even more ambiguous—it is repeated here for emphasis:

A San Antonio police officer shot a man Tuesday night after he ran at officers wielding a butcher’s knife on the South Side, officials said.

Based purely on that paragraph, no reader can be sure whether other officers were present nor whether one officer, the one that fired the shot from the combination knife/firearm, shot one of the other officers as he ran at them. The reader has already surmised that the butcher’s knife doubled as a firearm, so in the face of that ambiguity could also surmise that the shot fired hit one of the other officers.

Oh, and there is yet another ambiguity—we are told that a man ran at officers wielding a butcher’s knife. We don’t know exactly which man, nor do we know who was wielding the knife—one could reasonably surmise that it was wielded by the officers. If wielded by more than one officer, it must have been a really large butcher’s knife.

The reader is told that the butcher’s knife was wielded (carried) on the South Side, perhaps indicating that the carrier (or carriers) had previously wielded the knife/firearm combination in a different part of the city. The author erroneously capitalized both words, either inadvertently or purposely in the belief that locations appearing in the middle of a sentence should always be capitalized.

A reader might also surmise that the butcher’s knife  was carried on the side away from the officers—on the south side—in order to conceal it until the man came within reach of the target. I find that plausible—the wrong doer may have been running toward the other officers at an angle—sideways, so to speak—thus deliberately making an effort to conceal the weapon.

I thirst for more information on the new weapon, and I trust that the additional information will soon be provided. Apparently some highly imaginative weapons manufacturers and cutlery makers have created a dual-purpose weapon by combining a deadly blade with a deadly firearm—a weapon that can be used against a miscreant at close quarters or from a distance, depending on the situation and the discretion of the officer or officers.

The mere thought of police officers armed with such a weapon should strike fear into the hearts of any person contemplating one or more criminal activities. An errant citizen now knows that he (or she) will be sliced, slashed or stabbed as necessary if the officer is close enough, and if the officer is not within knife range, that errant (he or she) will be shot as many times, and in as many body parts, as necessary.

As an aside to this letter, I learned from a radio report this morning that the man was shot in the leg—which leg was not revealed, but it was either the left or the right. I do not recall the radio report shedding any light on that facet of the incident, nor do I recall the report specifying which man was shot and which man did the shooting, so my doubts created by the ambiguities present in the report remain extant.

And now for mandatory disclosures if any exist, and in this case there is one. This posting was not submitted to the Express-News for consideration. I have compiled an impressive collection of submissions to the editor in past years—some were printed and some were rejected. I soon realized that the rejections contained one or more criticisms, all of which were intended to be constructive, but the editor apparently did not consider them constructive, and in fact, in one instance the editor agreed to print a letter but would not include the whining portions of the submission. I refused permission to print it, whether with or without my whinings.

So now you know the rest of that story. I address constructive criticisms to the editor but I do not submit them to the editor. I submit them to Word Press on my blog. That publisher has never rejected a letter and I trust that they never will, assuming of course that my submissions are pertinent and in good taste—just as this letter is.

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

 

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