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Watermelons, fish, skinny-dipping & dynamite

I recently told the tale of how three of us, all miscreants and all active members of the United States Air Force stationed at Moody Air Force Base near the city of Valdosta, Georgia decided to raid a watermelon patch one Saturday night with the laudable purpose of illegally obtaining enough watermelons to have a Sunday watermelon party for ourselves and for our fellow barracks occupants. We felt that it would be a friendly, patriotic, doable and inexpensive gesture, especially since the watermelons would be free and the only other things we needed would be knives, forks and salt—yes, salt, because watermelon without salt is just watermelon. Click here for the original story of our night-time foray—our incursion into enemy territory, so to speak.

The knives and forks and salt could be easily lifted—oops, I meant borrowed—from our military dining facility, aka mess hall or chow hall, and by some as our slop shop. For those readers unfamiliar with the word slop—and there are lots of city folks, especially New Yorkers, that won’t know—slop is the mixture fed to pigs, and could be comprised entirely of commercial grains or entirely of table scraps or a combination of both.

As for a location for the party, the air base was surrounded by oak and pine forests, and our plan was to combine the watermelon feast with one of our frequent weekend sojourns into the woods to skinny-dip in one of the many dark-water creeks in the area—usually on such outings we consumed only beer—we felt that the melons would be appreciated by all.

The blast from that farmer’s shotgun on that night, on that quiet and peaceful rural road in South Georgia, resounded seemingly with the force of the explosions at Nagasaki and Hiroshima that ended World War II. Well, maybe not quite that loud, but it was at least as loud as the time a certain brother-in-law left me sitting in my car at an isolated location in that south Georgia area while he disappeared into the woods to a place where beavers had dammed a small creek and formed a fairly large body of water behind their dam.

When he disappeared in the bushes after telling me to wait in the car he was carrying a small bag, and a few minutes later when he burst from the bushes running toward the car, laughing like crazy, there was a tremendous explosion that told me the bag had contained dynamite, and the explosion was so loud and so unexpected that it almost resulted in me soiling my seat covers. He had wired the dam with the dynamite and blew it up, based on his belief that the pool created by the beavers’ dam would yield tons and tons of fish—trout, bass, perch, catfish, etc., perhaps even a sailfish or two—no, I made up the part about the sailfish.

I never learned whether the use of dynamite brought anything to my brother-in-law’s table. We left the area in considerable haste, spurred on by his admonition that someone may have heard the explosion and would come to investigate. My brother-in-law said he would return later to check on the effectiveness of his work with the dynamite, sometime after the reverberations had subsided and possible searchers for the source of the explosion had left the area. I never asked him how the fishing was, and he never volunteered the information.

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

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I dreamed of you today . . .

I dreamed of you today . . .

Janie, I saw you today. You were seated in a room and you stood and walked across the room and I followed. You were wearing black slacks, low-heeled black shoes and a red shirt, and you were carrying the black purse that Kelley brought from New York, and as always you looked exquisite.

I stood and followed you, but I awoke after you had taken only a few steps toward the door of the room. I don’t know where we were, and I can’t describe the surroundings because my attention was focused on you. Although I was asleep, I knew that I was asleep, and I was horribly disappointed when I awakened so soon after you appeared.

I saw you at 1:40 PM today on Sunday, the second day of January, 2010. This is the forty-fifth day since you left me, and I have prayed on every one of those days for you to come to me in my dreams, and today you answered my prayers. You came to me, only for a few seconds but you came to me. I had dozed off in the recliner in our den for a brief few seconds and you came to me.

I picture you in my mind throughout every day and into the evening, continuing on until sleep overtakes me—not continuously, of course, but sporadic through the entire day whether I am sitting, standing, walking or driving. My thoughts of you do not in any way distract from my daily activities—they seem to blend in perfectly, and my thoughts will always be of you. You were and still are such an important part of me that my thoughts will always keep you in my daily life, even though you are not with me.

Those incredibly brief seconds that I was with you today sparkle in my memory with the glitter of fine diamonds and glisten with the sheen of dew drops on tulips. I will keep them close in memory and bring them out from time to time to admire them and keep your memory strong, but I yearn for more—I’ve seen the previews of coming attractions—now let me see the feature-length film.

I love you more today than yesterday, but less than tomorrow.

Sleep well in heaven, my darling.

Mike

 
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Posted by on January 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Donna and the detector dog . . .

Donna and the detector dog . . .

For the last half of my three-year assignment at U.S. Customs Headquarters in Washington DC, I was assigned the responsibilities of Customs’ national program manager of the detector dog program. In the interest of full disclosure, I grudgingly state that while I was charged with all the program’s responsibilities, I was not given the promotion that the position warranted—I had the title, the workload and a half-assed promise of upgrading in the future, but that never materialized, and in that eighteen months my interest in most things federal waned—I became so desperate to get out of Dodge that I requested and received a lateral transfer to Houston, Texas. Click here for a discussion of my not-so-brief six months in Houston—it showcases one of Houston’s most undesirable features. It’s an open letter to a burglar.

Just as an aside, any reader of this posting may feel that perhaps I have ill will towards upper level management in the U. S. Customs hierarchy, and that perhaps that I may hold some sort of grudge. If so, they would be right. I do, and I do. I can sum it up by saying that a beautiful plaque from those worthies, a plaque praising my time in the federal work force, a total of 48 years encompassing 22 years with the military and combat tours in two wars and 26 years as a federal law officer—that plaque was dropped at my door by a UPS driver that rang the doorbell and hastened back to his truck—so much for presentation and pomp, and for circumstance and ceremony!

My duties as a program manager required frequent trips to various international airports, seaports and border crossing points to monitor, evaluate and report detector dog operations to upper levels of management. Click here to read about a trip to California to observe enforcement operations at several Customs locations. Trust me, it’s worth the visit—it involves a goat in my hotel room.

During a memorable visit to Buffalo, New York I heard this claim made by a journeyman detector dog handler. He said that the happiest girl in the whole USA entered the port at Rainbow Bridge, and he was ordered to run his dog on Donna Fargo’s lavished furnished tour bus on her return from performances in Canada.

The detector dog’s search produced negative results, but it generated a classic tale. From that day forward the dog handler claimed, to fellow employees and to the world in general, that he had spent some time in Donna Fargo’s bed—and that he was not alone! The unvarnished truth, of course, is that he stretched out on the singer’s bed and ordered his canine teammate to lie beside him for a brief period, thus the claim that he had spent some time in her bed, and that he was not alone. I suspect that if the dog could talk, he would make the same claim in smoke-filled canine bars and casinos.

So much for a moment of levity in the life of a detector dog handler, a life and an occupation that is sometimes highly rewarding but one that is far too often the subject of many jokes and crass remarks. During my assignment as manager of the national program I made every effort to squelch the oft-quoted definition of a detector dog team as a leash with a problem at both ends—my efforts were unsuccessful.

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

Postscript:

This is for the half-dozen or so people in the world’s population of some six and one-half billion that have not heard this one. Have you heard about the atheist that had dyslexia? He didn’t believe in Dog.

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2010 in bridge, Humor, Military, Travel

 

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Meet Papa John (not the pizza man) . . .

Meet Papa John . . .

Papa John, my stepfather, is a recurring figure in many of my postings, and he looms just as large in my memories as he did in life. For good or for otherwise, he was part of my life for some 28 years, from the time of his marriage to my mother in 1942—the first of their two marriages—until the time of his death in 1970. I trust that el Hombre ariba—the Man above—will forgive me for saying that his death coincided with one of the best things that ever happened to me.

Actually, it was not a coincidence—his death brought about one of the best things because it got me out of Vietnam and home with my family for a month. I had to return to Vietnam to finish my scheduled tour, but those thirty days at home were priceless. That month brought me out of the darkness of the Vietnam war and into the bright light of my wife and my children—the time with my family restored my faith and my sanity and allowed me to return, unwillingly of course, and finish my assignment with renewed vigor.

The military did not want me to have the thirty days at home—evidently my presence in Vietnam was critical to the war’s success. While I was honored that I was so important to the war effort, I managed to convince the brass to honor my right to be at my mother’s side following the death of my stepfather, and I recorded the events leading up to my return to the US in a prior posting. Click on the following URL for more details: https://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2009/06/09/554/

With my mother’s marriage to my stepfather, my family was reduced to four—mother, stepfather, son and daughter. The older son and the two older daughters were safely outside the family, and were influenced by Papa John only through observation and interaction with my mother, my younger sister and me.

My stepfather had a rudimentary education, but over the years he became a skilled carpenter and cabinetmaker. His talents were in demand during the years of World War II, but those demands ebbed and flowed and required several re-locations, from Mississippi to Tennessee on two separate occasions, and eventually to Texas.

Between his job assignments and the dissolution of the family for one reason or another, mostly caused by his alcoholism, we always returned to Columbus, Mississippi. From my birth until the age of nine, I lived in six residences in two states, Alabama and Mississippi. In the seven–year period between the ages of nine and sixteen, following my mother’s marriage to Papa John, I lived in 17 different residences in five different states—Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Texas and New York. My travels involved living in eleven different places in three Mississippi cities—one in Durant, one in Long Beach and nine in Columbus.

I spent 22 years in military service and another 26 years in federal service as a law enforcement officer, and in that 48 years I traveled all over the United States and several foreign countries. Is it any wonder that I don’t like to travel now? And if I do leave home, for whatever reason, I desperately want to be back home before dark!

Forgive me for digressing from the purpose of this posting. My intent here is to talk about some of Papa John’s idiosyncrasies, some of his peculiarities that we quickly learned and adhered to—I’ll mention only a few but not all, because I would soon exhaust my ink supply. He was fifty when he married our mother, so his habits were firmly ensconced.

He saucered his coffee. He would pour a bit from the cup to the saucer and when it cooled, he sipped from the saucer. We were told we could do that when we turned fifty.

He drank directly from his cereal bowl to drain the last vestiges of milk. We could do that at the age of fifty.

He allowed no pets unless they worked, hunting dogs for example, and no cats except for rat and mouse control. For his idea of pets, click here to read about his promise of two dogs for my sister and me as pets for Christmas presents. Click on the following URL for the details: https://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2010/06/27/two-pets-for-christmas/

He was prone to produce intestinal gas in prodigious amounts, and was always polite when he released it. He always excused himself and left the table when the occasion demanded it, but no matter where we lived there was no place in the house that would do much more than muffle the sound. This was a source of mirth for me and my sister, but as we grew older the mirth waned rapidly. Our mother’s response, whether the explosions came while watching television, dining or  after retiring for the night, she never deviated from an exasperated exclamation: My God, John!

He did not use swear words, nor did he allow us to use them. His favorite expression was to refer to a person as a peckerwood, a corruption of woodpecker, I suppose. However, the way he pronounced that word left no doubt that the person was at least some of the swear words that describe people in scathing terms.

He used prodigious amounts of aftershave lotion and talcum powder, so he always smelled good—well, almost always. His use of talcum powder caused one of our family breakups, one that took us from an idyllic life on a farm in Mississippi—talcum powder was the immediate cause, but the underlying cause ran much deeper—my guess would be that he used the talcum powder incident as a reason to dissolve the family so he could pursue activities more desirable than managing a small farm. For a reading of that breakup, click on the following URL: https://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2010/02/25/sid-looney-and-a-model-t-ford/

He was an inveterate gambler, and when enough money had been accrued to constitute a grubstake, he usually returned to Midland, Texas where he was a member of the Fraternal Order of Eagles, an organization that was legally authorized to conduct gambling in a state, county and city where gambling was illegal. When the money ran out—and it always did—he took the necessary steps to reassemble our family, ostensibly having seen the light and turning over a new leaf, but actually to build another grubstake. For a comprehensive posting of the Fraternal Order of Eagles and life in Midland, and a recount of my brief stint as a cocktail waiter, click on the following URL:https://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2010/03/03/my-brief-stint-as-a-cocktail-waiter/

There is more to tell about Papa John—if I appear to be dwelling on his less than acceptable manners and his pursuits outside the family, it’s because those are among my most vivid memories. Papa was not all bad—there were good times—it’s just that the other than good times outweighed the good times. There were periods of genuine affection among our small family, but they were darkened by times of affliction. Just one instance of someone inflicting pain, distress and grief on another person or persons, whether physical or mental, is one too many, and Papa John was guilty of such actions repeatedly over the years, particularly on my mother.

I have a sneaking suspicion that with my writings I am saying some of the things I would have liked to say to Papa while he was alive—and should have said—but prudence coupled with fear forbade me doing that.

I hope he’s listening now.

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

 

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Letter to Lorene—December 6, 1994 . . .

San Antonio Int’l Airport

December 6, 1993

Dear Rene,

Your phone call yesterday was really a pleasant surprise. I had just about decided that you were keeping a mad on with me, because you didn’t write, you didn’t call . . .

I got to work right at 9 o’clock, just in time to make the daily schedule. Actually they didn’t need me. If I hadn’t shown up the inspectors would have assigned themselves the different jobs and processed the arriving aircraft. Sure is nice to know you’re not needed, isn’t it?

Sundays and holidays are nothing days anyhow. I work from 9 till about 11, then go home and piddle all day and come back at 6 pm, work for about an hour then go home. I get paid for all the time in between because I can’t go anywhere. I’m on standby.

Effective in January our overtime system changes, and probably not for the better. I’m certain the amount of overtime we earn is going to drop significantly. The good part about the new system is that the overtime we earn will be used to compute our high-three earning years to determine our retirement pay. The system we use now does not take overtime into account in determining retirement. So it’s one of those every cloud has a silver lining deals.

I’m not sure it’s true that every cloud must have a silver lining. I’ve seen lots of clouds that didn’t have a lining, silver or otherwise. The only way a cloud can have a silver lining is if the sun is behind it. What about a cloud that doesn’t have the sun behind it? The saying should be changed to every cloud with the sun behind it must have a silver lining and then it would be true.

I’ve definitely seen clouds without silver linings, and I’ve seen situations and circumstances and events that were bad, 100 percent bad, nothing good about them, or nothing that I could see, anyway. Wow! Am I feeling pessimistic, or what?

Not really. I’m feeling good. Yesterday I had a phone call from one of my two favorite sisters (worded that one neatly, didn’t I!), I’m at work making good money and earning 10 percent extra wages just for being on the evening shift (and it goes to 15 percent January1), and they got my concrete poured today, and if all goes well I should have the new patio cover up in a week or so, and all my kids are well and we will all be together for Christmas, and I have no doubt that the rest of the universe is unfolding as it should, even without my help!

Did I ever tell you about my dog? I’ve had her for about four years now, and sometimes I really don’t like her. She is a barker and a sitter—I omitted the H—when people ask what breed of dog I have, I tell them that she is a Shitzalot, and some say, Oh, okay, I’ve heard of that breed. I can’t keep the patio clean because she tracks dirt and mud on it, and I can’t have a pretty back yard because she cuts trails all through the grass, and I have been threatening to give her away, sell her, shoot her, or donate her to the dog pound almost from the time we got her as a puppy. And I unfairly blame Alta, because she is the one that wanted a puppy four years ago.

Today one of the concrete workers said that she was a pretty dog and he really liked her, and I asked him if he wanted her. He said he really would like to have her, and guess what? I don’t want him to have her. She’s my dog, and I’m stuck with her. I must have figured that if someone else wanted her she must be an outstanding dog, and it would be foolish to get rid of such a fine animal.

I made Alta a promise, though. I had my chance to get rid of her—the dog, not Alta—and didn’t take it, so I promised never to cuss or punish or even complain about her again—the dog, not Alta. It isn’t going to be an easy promise to keep, but I’ll work hard at it.

The dog was supposed to be a Cockapoo, a mix of Cocker Spaniel and French Poodle, but somehow a Labrador Retriever got into the act and accomplished the act, so my Cockapoo weighs about 40 pounds and eats like a horse and dumps like a horse and cuts paths in my yard like a horse—but I’m not complaining!

Would you believe it? I have been sitting here looking at the screen for a long time, couldn’t think of anything to talk about. That’s not like me, is it? Usually I have something to chatter about. How about San Antonio and its drive-by shootings? We are right up there with the big boys in Los Angeles and Chicago and New York. The city is averaging some 3-4 drive-by shootings daily. They are mostly on the east side where most of the blacks live, and on the south and west side where most of the Hispanics live. However, youth gangs are beginning to spread to the north side where most of the white folks live.

I’m really not sure who to blame, whether it’s the parents’ fault, or television and the movies, or the government, or maybe that old a-tomic bomb they keep setting off. I imagine more effort will be put into the problem now that it is spreading to the side of town where all the power movers and the wealthy live—the people with the financial and political clout.

Since I live on the north side, you won’t have to worry about the gangs when you come to visit. I mention this only to allay your fears, not to imply that I am one of the wealthy or a power mover, or one of those with financial or political clout. I live on the north side just because it’s closer to the airport. We looked everywhere in the city before we finally settled on this house. I believe I could qualify as a taxi driver in virtually every section of San Antonio.

Valley High, the subdivision we lived in from 1964 till 1972, is now one of the most crime-ridden areas in the city. Our old house still looks good, except it is now a bright pink with blue trim—doesn’t look too bad, actually. The area has junk cars on the streets and in the front yards, and many of the homeowners have completely fenced their houses, front yard as well as the back. I guess the fence is intended to keep out people as well as dogs. We have some friends who still live in Valley High, but we don’t visit too often. Well, actually, we haven’t visited them in 6 years. I guess that’s not too often, isn’t it?

They’ve been to our house a couple of times since we returned to San Antonio, but that’s about it. Is this depressing you? It’s depressing me. I feel a deep resentment when I see how property values have gone down in various areas here because of the influx of lower income people. I don’t know who to blame for this, either. I suppose the people do the best they can with what they have to work with.

So whose fault is it that they don’t have much to work with? Is it theirs because they don’t try to improve, or is it ours because we fail to share with them, or is it government’s fault because it doesn’t provide adequately for them?

Boy, I’m waxing philosophical, ain’t I? Want to know how I really feel about all this? To heck with them—I have mine, let them get theirs! The only problem is that too often they want to get theirs from someone else instead of earning it.

I know you’re not supposed to listen to bad jokes, so skip this paragraph. Three young women, all pregnant, were at the clinic waiting to see the doctor. They were discussing the sex of their unborn children and one said, “I know I’m going to have a little boy because my husband was on top when our baby was conceived.” The second woman said, “Well, I’m sure mine is going to be a girl, because my husband was on the bottom when our baby was conceived.” The third woman burst into tears and said, “Oh, my God, I’m gonna have a puppy!

You can open your eyes now, but don’t look back. You remember what happened to Lott’s wife, don’t you? Are you aware that she was probably the first salt lick in history?

Are you getting tired? Would you like to take a break, maybe get a cup of coffee, go to the bathroom or walk around for awhile or something? I don’t mind. I can wait. Go ahead.

Boy, you must have really had to go!

Did I ever tell you about the time we were traveling through North Carolina and Debbie, who was about four years old, started to ask me something then said, Oh, never mind, you’ll just tell me I’m going upstream. We finally figured out that she meant was that I would tell her she was going to extremes. She also brought me the phone book one time and asked me to show her an unlisted number. And the funny thing is, I started to hunt one. She was about 17 then. No, she was about seven, I guess.

Isn’t it funny the things we remember about the kids? I remember so clearly you telling about Larry, when he was just a little fellow, playing on the porch and saying Whew, tod dam, and he turned out to be saying what Elmer would say when he got home from working, Whew, tired down. You did tell me that, didn’t you? I do remember it right, don’t I? Or did I make it up? Well, if I did, it’s a good story. I’ve told it a lot over the years.

My girls come up with stories about when they were little, especially about things concerning me, that I know never happened. My only problem is that when one of them tells the story, the other two back her up. In fact, Alta usually jumps on the bandwagon and also claims it happened just like they said. Can you believe that?

Oops, got a plane to work. This is my last one tonight, from Mexico City. Shouldn’t take long, just 21 passengers. Maybe we’ll get out early tonight. So I’ll close for now.

Lots of love to you and yours, from us and ours,

Mike

 
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Posted by on August 8, 2010 in Childhood, Family, Humor, pets

 

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Cowboys, coffee shops and overnight in jail . . .

The year 1948 was a really busy one for me. I began the year in high school in the second semester of the tenth grade, but I left school to travel with my family—stepfather, mother and sister—from Mississippi to Midland, Texas. Although dropping out was not my decision, I must honestly say that I was not too upset.

As a preteen and teenager, I was a voracious reader of adventure novels—Zane Grey was and still is one of my favorite authors.  I looked forward to being in the land of wild Indians and cowboys, horses and rustlers, crooked bankers and comely maidens, cattle drives to the rail head, stampedes and shoot-outs, fast-draw sheriffs and outlaws, snake-oil peddlers and bible-thumping circuit riders—I was not obsessed with all things western, but I was an avid—okay, rabid—fan.

I spent the rest of the year, at various times traveling, living and working in Midland, Texas and El Paso, Texas. In September of that year I traveled by auto with my older brother from El Paso to New York City, with a Sunday overnight stay in jail in Valley Park, Missouri, a small city a few miles west of St. Louis—it has probably grown a lot since then. On release from jail, we paid a brief visit in St. Louis to my stepfather’s sister and her husband in an effort to borrow gas money to get to New York.

They declined to help out, saying they couldn’t be certain that we were who we said we were—some really cautious people there. We only asked for $20 (gas was twenty-six cents a gallon in 1948) but they were adamant and refused. And here I will be just as cautious as they were by offering my apologies in advance if some are offended when I say that their refusal to help two people adrift on a sea of uncertainty may have been based on the husband being of a certain ethnic persuasion—if you catch my drift. Hey, give me a bit of credit—I’ve already apologized for the slut—oops, I meant slur.

The fact that my stepfather’s sister and her husband apologized to my stepfather and my mother at a later date does little to soften their refusal to finance the remainder of our trip to New York. Twenty dollars? The couple owned and operated an upscale coffee shop in one of the finest hotels in St. Louis. They could not possibly have believed that my brother and I were anyone other than who we professed to be—I told them things about my stepfather, both pro and con, that I could only know from having lived under his rule for some seven years.

Here’s a not-so-brief discussion of our futile chase of a wife, a bus and a train enroute to New York City. While my brother was at work at the El Paso Smelting Works (we lived in one of the company houses on-site), his wife took his wallet, his car and their two children to town, ostensibly on a shopping trip. Around noon on that day, a Friday, we received a call from a parking lot attendant in downtown El Paso. He said the woman that left it there told him to call her husband to pick up the car. My brother called a taxi and asked me to go with him to pick up the car. I unwisely agreed to go—big mistake.

We retrieved the car and immediately headed east. My brother had checked the Greyhound bus schedules and said that she had probably taken the bus and we could catch her in Dallas, more than 600 miles distant. He neglected to ask me if I wanted to go with him—he simply pointed his 1942 Mercury coupe, the one with the steering wheel lock hack-sawed off and the ignition system hooked up to the fog lights—yep, it was hot wired—turn on the fog lights and the engine could be started. We left El Paso and headed for Dallas with my brother driving—I was riding shotgun.

The Greyhound had a fair start on us, but we arrived in Dallas before it did. His wife and children were not on it. My brother then checked the train schedules out of El Paso and decided that she must have taken the train to New York. He said that we could beat the train to St. Louis, so we headed for St. Louis, another 6oo miles away.

A funny thing happened to us on that leg of our journey. We were only 27 miles from St. Louis, and had our forward motion not been impeded, we would have beaten the train from El Paso. However,  around noon on that Sunday in Valley Park, Missouri, a small town (then) just 27 miles west of St. Louis, we passed a drive-in restaurant where two uniformed city police officers were having lunch in their police cruiser, with an attractive young short-skirted female carhop leaning into the driver’s window. We were in slow-moving city traffic as we passed, so we had time to admire the rear view of the carhop, and that was probably a fatal mistake. The cops dismissed her and scattered gravel as they dug out in hot pursuit of us, siren blaring, red lights flashing and a bullhorn roaring Pull over! Just as in the old black-and-white Boston Blackie, Charlie Chan and James Cagney movies.

Following the stop and a few questions and answers, my brother and I were arrested, patted down and placed in the city jail. We were suspected of auto theft, and the police posed the probability that we were guilty and possibly had kidnapped and murdered the owner of the car—yes, they used those words, and repeatedly asked us what we did with the gun and where had we hidden the body of the person we murdered after stealing the car.

I hasten to add that the only thing we were guilty of was being stupid enough to first race a Greyhound bus from El Paso to Dallas, and then race a cross-country passenger train from El Paso to St. Louis, all the while driving a hot-wired car with the steering wheel lock hack-sawed off, three different sets of license plates in the trunk, no personal identification and no luggage. Add to that the fact that neither my brother nor I had a scrap of identification on us, and I had a handful of .22 caliber long-rifle cartridges in a pocket of my jeans. We were arrested on Sunday, and after our overnight jailing we were released just before noon on Monday. We were told that we could only be held 24 hours without being formally charged with a crime and booked. We were released after 23 hours in jail, with no apology offered, just an emphatic, Get out of town and don’t come back—just as in those old-time western movies.

We had valid explanations for the hot-wiring, multiple sets of license plates, no identification, no luggage and a pocketful of rifle cartridges, but the officers obviously did not believe us, and told us that none of our story could be checked on Sunday because the offices that could verify our story were closed and inquires could not be made until Monday. We  asked them to call our mother in El Paso and she could verify our story. We also asked them to call the parking lot attendant, but they had no interest in calling either. No computers could be checked, of course, because computers had not yet been invented—well, invented perhaps, but none were in use at the time.

The police station boasted two cells in a metal cage, constructed with flat metal strips rather than bars, located in a back room. Apparently the two sections were bolted together after being placed in the room. Each section was approximately 6 x 10 feet, and each had a steel bunk bolted to the middle partition—just the flat knee-high steel platform—no mattress, no pillow, nothing in the way of bedding.

The only other furnishing was a ceramic toilet with no seat and no lid, filled nearly to the brim with things that defied descripti0n. My brother’s cell was similarly equipped and similarly filled to the point of overflowing. I had a faucet on my side, and early in our stay my brother asked our captors for a drink of water. One of those worthies retrieved a pint milk bottle from a pile of rubbish in a corner, passed it to me and told me to get my brother a drink. The bottle was dirty, so I filled it partially and then shook it in an effort to get it clean, then poured the contents into the toilet, and that was a huge mistake. It stirred up the contents of the toilet and unleashed odors that filled the air and our nostrils for the rest of our stay. I told my brother that I couldn’t get the bottle clean and he wisely decided that he wasn’t really thirsty after all.

The cells were separated by a metal partition—I was placed on one side of the partition and my brother was secured on the other side. We could talk but could not see each other. The room had no lighting—daytime lighting was furnished by one double-sash window on my side, with the lower sash raised and no screen—the back side of my cell was against the wall with the window.  Flies, mosquitoes, sounds and odors entered with ease—sounds and odors seemed to come and go, but the flies and mosquitoes only came and never left. A single overhead naked light bulb mounted near the room’s ceiling far above the top of our cells served for night lighting—it was never turned off while we were incarcerated.

My brother and I were smokers—I had the matches and he had the cigarettes, but we were able to improvise. There were several small holes drilled through the partition, just large enough to pass a cigarette through, so he would pass me a cigarette and after lighting it, I would pass the lighted match through the hole so he could light his cigarette—we thus confirmed the adage that necessity is the mother of invention.

Late in the afternoon nearing dusk, I glanced out and saw a young boy standing outside the window and staring at me—he was probably twelve or so—I asked him if he would run an errand for me, and if he would I would reward him for it. He agreed, so I gave him fifty cents and asked him to bring back two packs of Camel cigarettes. Don’t laugh—in those days with cigarettes at eighteen cents a pack, a half-dollar would buy two packs with fourteen cents left over. With an apology in advance for using the word bastard, the little bastard took my fifty cents and never came back—hey, I said I apologized!

The cops came to us at about dark-thirty and asked what we wanted for supper, saying that sandwiches were available at a nearby restaurant. My brother and I asked for milk and two cheeseburgers each, and I must admit that the burgers were first-rate. As an aside, burger buns and burgers came in one size in those days—small—nothing even approaching the huge ones we enjoy today. We learned later that the food was not furnished by the city—our suppers were paid for with the few dollars they took when they searched us before placing us in our cells. If there was any change left over they kept it, because no money was returned to us.

There’s lots more to tell about our trip, but I’ll save it for another posting—this one has rambled on long enough. I tried to make it brief, but posting is closely akin to eating peanuts, running downhill and having sex—once started it’s hard to stop. Stay tuned for additional information regarding our jail stay, including a discussion involving a length of rubber hose.

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

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

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Ann Landers—The station . . .

This posting is a letter to Ann Landers and her response to the letter writer.  Robert J. Hastings’ The Station may be found on the internet with some variations, but the story and its message are always the same. The date it was published in Newsday is unknown, but I’ve had my typewritten copy (remember typewriters?) for twenty years or more—it’s pretty faded and smudged now, but its pertinence and its heartfelt pathos are still there, and it still tugs at my heartstrings when I read it. I’m posting it here for those that may have missed the publication at the time, and for the multitudes that have come along since it was published. There is a lesson to be learned here, if one will only take the time time to read it and digest its message—and then, perhaps, to apply the message to one’s own life.

The Newsday header for Ann Landers reply was:

Life must be lived one day at a time

Dear Ann Landers,

In July of 1985, my wife was diagnosed as having terminal cancer. Shortly afterward, your column on The Station by R. J. Hastings appeared in Newsday. For years, we had talked of some day going to Paris, a city I fell in love with as a GI. The day after I read the poem, I realized that it was time to pull into the station.

As soon as the doctor ok’d the trip, we went to Paris and had the most beautiful vacation of our 43 years. My lovely wife passed away a year and a half after the diagnosis.

I have since taken the liberty of passing copies of that column to friends. One purchased his some day car. Another went on a long-delayed trip. But the station also can mean visiting a sick friend, and that some day should be now. There is so much hurt in looking back and remembering those things we intended to do and didn’t.

Thank you, Ann Landers, for Paris.

Irv Gaiptman, Plainview, NY.

Dear Irv:

You were dear to let me know what The Station meant to your life. Here it is for all the others who haven’t as yet learned that lesson:

The Station

Tucked away in our subconscious is an idyllic vision. We see ourselves on a long trip that spans the continent. We are traveling by train. Out the windows we bring in the passing scene of cars on nearby highways, of children waving at a crossing, of cattle grazing on a distant hillside, of smoke pouring from a power plant, of row upon row of corn and wheat, of flatlands and valleys, of mountains and rolling hillsides, of city skylines and village halls.

But uppermost in our minds is the final destination. On a certain day at a certain hour we will pull into the station. Bands will be playing and flags waving. Once we get there so many wonderful dreams will come true and the pieces of our lives will fit together like a complete jigsaw puzzle. How restlessly we pace the aisles, damning the minutes for loitering—waiting, waiting, waiting for the station.

When we reach the station, that will be it, we cry. When I’m 18. When I buy a new 450SL Mercedes Benz. When I put the last kid through college. When I have paid off the mortgage. When I get a promotion. When I reach the age of retirement, I shall live happily ever after.

Sooner or later we must realize there is no station, no one place to arrive at once and for all. The true joy of life is the trip. The station is only a dream. It constantly outdistances us.

Relish the moment is a good motto, especially when coupled with Psalm 118:24: This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. It isn’t the burdens of today that drive men mad. It is the regrets over yesterday and the fear of tomorrow. Regret and fear are twin thieves who rob us of today.

So stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles. Instead, climb more mountains, eat more ice cream, go barefoot more often, swim more rivers, watch more sunsets, laugh more and cry less. Life must be lived as we go along. The station will come soon enough.

By Robert J. Hastings

 

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