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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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On flags, funerals, Shakespeare & sex . . .

I recently spent some time online seeking information for the proper way to dispose of an American flag, for whatever reason—tattered, torn, soiled, etc. At the risk of being called un-American, I will say without reservation that the information given ranges from the ridiculous to the sublime. The most acceptable method of destroying an American flag that is not longer serviceable is by burning, but first its composition must be determined.

Is it cloth? If cloth, it may be burned but under tightly controlled supervision, with close attention paid to local burning restrictions and most important, the flag must be completely consumed by fire, with none of the fragments allowed to float away on prevailing winds.

Is it plastic? If it is made of plastic, burning may well release chemicals that will pollute the air and pose a danger to humans and animals, so clearance must be obtained from our nation’s Environmental Protection Agency—good luck with that!

In lieu of burning, a flag may be buried but it must be buried in a non-degradable container to ensure that it will never again see the light of day nor be exposed to the elements of nature, and the drivel goes on and on—click here to read the do’s and don’ts as promulgated by the United States Flag Code.

A flag is a flag is a flag, etc., or as William Shakespeare might say, “That which we call a flag, regardless of its composition, whether constructed of plastic, silk, nylon, 1200-thread-count Egyptian cotton or a combination of all the above, would have streamed just as gallantly o’er the ramparts we watched as did the original that was flown over Baltimore’s Fort McHenry in 1914 in the War of 1912 and is now displayed in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.”

Yep, I believe that’s what the bard might say. Any item, regardless of its composition, that features the proper colors and the requisite numbers of “broad stripes and bright stars,” all arranged in the manner of those of the real flag—the one periodically displayed at the Smithsonian—is a representation of that flag and therefore warrants the same attention to usage and storage and final disposition.

Each year without fail, a local realtor places a small American flag on a stick in the front yard of every home in my neighborhood—the flags number in the hundreds at least, and perhaps in the thousands, and I’m reasonably sure that the process is repeated in other neighborhoods all across our nation. The flags are not marked with the country of origin, but I’ll bet a half-barrel of pickled a-holes that they’re made in China. The staff is some sort of white wood, and the material is some kind of fabric, either a natural fabric or synthetic material—who knows which?

Our flag code requires flags to be of certain proportions, regardless of their intended use, whether flying over the White House or sticking in my front lawn. Overall size is a matter of choice, but the star field, the stripe widths, the size of the stars relative to the overall size, etc., are specified by the Code and any lop-sided construction of the flag, regardless of size, is a violation of the US Flag Code, and any disposition other than specified in the Code is a violation.

I haven’t measured the specifics of the flags that proliferate in our neighborhood each year on Flag Day, beautifying or polluting, take your pick. Given the ability and the proclivity of the Chinese to excel in mathematics, I suspect that they are right on the money—so to speak—in the dimensions of the untold tons of flags they ship to the United States each year.

Are you, dear reader, beginning to see what I mean when I say that flag instructions and its procotol range from the ridiculous to the sublime? In our devotion to our flag and our need to protect it, we have given it properties that more properly pertain to living, breathing life forms, whether human or animal. When we die we are subjected to specific methods of disposition—what, when, where and how, and to a lesser extent for the so-called lower order of animals.

The Star Spangled Banner

On September 14, 1814, U.S. soldiers at Baltimore’s Fort McHenry raised a huge American flag to celebrate a crucial victory over British forces during the War of 1812. The sight of those “broad stripes and bright stars” inspired Francis Scott Key to write a song that eventually became the national anthem of the United States of America. Key’s words gave new significance to a national symbol and started a tradition through which generations of Americans have invested the flag with their own meanings and memories. Click here for the flag’s history.

If the real flag should ever be subjected to destruction—let’s say, to prevent it from falling into enemy hands should the District of Columbia be overrun, whether by the extreme left or by the extreme right, we should consider a Viking funeral for the flag on the Potomac river–what a riveting spectacle that would be! Click here to read up on Viking funerals—it’s worth the read—hey, those Norse ceremonies involved a lot of people other than the diseased in order to comply with all the requirements that had be met.

Timing of the ceremony would be critical, of course, to ensure that the burning Viking ship would sink before ramming one of the Potomac’s bridges. The current is fairly swift in that area—the ship should probably be anchored before being torched, and the usual sacrifice of a slave girl should be omitted. I’m not aware of any available slave girls, at least none that would be willing to volunteer to accompany the flag on its final voyage. Although that would guarantee throngs of spectators and television saturation—all the bridges on the Potomac would be packed with spectators—such an event could possibly produce political complications. I worked and lived in the DC area for three years, and I’ll admit that one of the girls that entertain nightly on Fourteenth Street in downtown DC might be persuaded, especially one filled with the intoxicating drink mentioned by Ahmad Ibn Fadlan in the tenth century—then again, perhaps not—who knows? The following video will introduce you to 14th St—if you need and want an introduction. If not, just skip over it, but if you do shun it you’ll miss out on a nightly spectacle, the pulchritudinous parade of practicing purveyors of es e ex.

I conducted all the research above with the serious intention to present it, with all seriousness aside, in an effort to educate and entertain those that follow my blog and those that simply stumble onto it. I mean no disrespect to our flag, although I detest the placement of that tacky little flag on a stick that mysteriously appears on my lawn each year on Flag Day. I love Old Glory and I dedicated more than 22 years of military service to it, years in which I proudly assisted our nation in losing two wars, with combat tours in Korea, 1950-1952 and Viet Nam, 1969-1970.

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

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2011 in education, Humor, law enforcement

 

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Revisit to: Long, long ago in Mexico . . .

While browsing recently among past postings that are available on Twitter, hoping to find fodder for additional postings, I returned to this one. It is so beautifully composed and presented, and I enjoyed reading it so much, that I decided to bring it up from the depths of the Stygian darkness where it has stagnated for eighteen months—since June of 2009—and into the bright light of today.

Please note that I praise this posting with all modesty cast aside, just as I am wont to do with all my literary efforts. Please note also that the lawless situation that exists in Mexico today is not new—it was just as prevalent and just as brutal eighteen months ago as it is now. Click here to read the original post.

If you doubt my statement that the lawless situation in Mexico is not new , read the introductory paragraph below carefully, keeping in mind that it was written in June of 2009. I firmly believe that these conditions will prevail unless—and until—Mexico is annexed by the United States and our military forces are put into action in the newly acquired territory, but only after they are withdrawn from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan and rested a bit. The sovereign nations of Mexico and the United States need to acknowledge that the drug cartels—the insurgents—are in charge, and are just as dangerous—nay, more dangerous—to the United States than the insurgents in the Middle East.

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

Long, long ago in Mexico

Long, long ago in Mexico, in a time when drug lords were not spraying the streets with bullets from rapid-fire weapons purchased illegally in the United States and exported illegally to Mexico, and were not murdering Mexican police chiefs and news reporters and anyone else that might be expected to hamper their efforts to maintain control of Mexico and its citizens—long, long ago when roving gangs were not kidnapping U. S. citizens on both sides of the Mexican border and holding them for ransom and various other reasons—a time when the streets in Mexican border towns were as safe or safer than streets in our border cities—and a time when I was the supervisory Customs inspector at the Port of Roma, in the sleepy town of Roma, Texas, high on a bluff (the town was high, not I) overlooking the Rio Grande river, across from the even sleepier town of Miguel Aleman, Mexico—this was the time in which I and one of my three princesses (the one in Virginia that takes all the pretty pictures) took a brief trip to Mexico during her spring break from studies at Pan-American University in Edinburg, Texas.

In the spring of 1979, our father-and-daughter team (a college student of 18 tender years and a military-retiree father of 47 not-so-tender years) embarked on a memorable sojourn into the wilds of Mexico. We traveled in a 1978 Volkswagen diesel Rabbit, a small 4-door vehicle labeled “Panama Brown” by its maker, but its color could better be described as bright orange. It was a very small people carrier—to illustrate its smallness, I can tell you that somewhere between Monterrey, Mexico and Saltillo, Mexico, we strayed off-road into a canyon where it was necessary to navigate our auto around huge rocks, some much larger than the Rabbit. After circumventing several such rocks, with the paved highway receding in the distance and a line spoken by a Mexican bandit in a Hollywood western film ringing in our ears, reason prevailed and we returned to the pavement. That memorable line was, “We don’ take no stinkin’ prisoners!”

We began our adventure in Reynosa, Mexico, a metropolitan city on the Rio Grande river. The river marks the boundary between the U. S. and Mexico—its name in Spanish is Rio Bravo, a more appropriate and more appealing term than grand—I suppose it can be considered brave, but at no point can it be considered grand—at least not, for example, in comparison with our Mississippi river. Reynosa is directly opposite Hidalgo, Texas, a small city a few miles from McAllen, Texas.

Our first stop in Mexico was at the Office of Immigration to secure “permisos,” official documents that would authorize us to travel past the 15-kilometer check point, a distance of some 9-10 miles, beyond which is considered Mexico’s interior. Our treatment by Immigration officers began routinely, but progressed into a “situation.” The first officer we met took our vitals (name, citizenship, destination, purpose of visit, etc.), and leered knowingly when I said we were father and daughter—his thoughts were printed all over his face. He was thinking, “Yeah, sure, you are father and daughter, heh, heh, heh.” My daughter looked younger than her 18 years, and I grudgingly admit that I may have appeared a year or two older than my 47 years. After some copious stamping of various documents (our permits), the officer passed them to another officer that was apparently guarding the exit to the vehicle parking area.

The second officer gave our permits a cursory inspection, stuffed them into an envelope, laid them on the table in front of us and said in English, “Senor, anything you may wish to give.” This was a request for mordida, a very expressive Spanish noun derived from the Spanish verb “morder,” which means “to bite.” Mordida, a diminutive of that verb, is used to describe  “a little bite.” Mexican officials take “a little bite” out of everything which moves across the Mexican border, in both directions, including merchandise, produce and people. Mordida is a way of life in Mexico, so ingrained in the economy and in daily life that people expect the demand, and would be very surprised if it were not made.

The Mexico of today is a far cry from the Mexico of 1979. My response then would not be my response today, not in these trying times. This was 30 years ago, way back in 1979—times were different. I showed the officer my official identification and said, “Senor, no deseo dar. Soy el supervisor de las aduanas en el puerto de Roma, Tejas, y amplío cada cortesía a cualquier oficial del gobierno mexicano que entra en nuestro país.” What I said was, in fairly lucid Spanish, “Sir, I do not wish to give. I am the Customs supervisor at the port of Roma, Texas, and I extend every courtesy to any Mexican government official entering my country.”

The situation changed, abruptly and for the better. The officer stood, shook hands with us and escorted us to his commander. He introduced me to his commander as the Customs jefe at Roma, and introduced my daughter as my daughter. The comandante enthusiastically welcomed us into Mexico, and offered to accompany us to our vehicle and place official seals on our luggage—with those seals we would not be burdened with inspections at the 15-kilometer check point. Having nothing to hide and not wishing to call undue attention to ourselves, I politely declined the offer. We were, however, accompanied to our vehicle and were sent on our way with a hearty “Vaya con dios,” the Spanish version of “God speed.” And we sped away, at least as well as we could in a 4-cylinder diesel Volkswagen.

At the check point we barely slowed down—the officials there made us welcome and expressed their hopes that we would enjoy our visit to their country. We were reasonably certain that the station had been notified, whether by phone, radio, smoke signals or passenger pigeon, that our arrival at the check point was imminent, and that we could be identified from a distance because we would arrive in a little-bitty bright orange (Panama brown) car.

In our family we have always numbered our adventures, but the numbers are never in sequence and we never record them—someone simply picks a number and off we go. This adventure encompasses many scenarios, some foolish, some frightening, all memorable and well worth the telling. After passing the check point we took in the cities of Monterrey and Saltillo and a visit to and into Garcia’s Cave, a visit that was both foolish and frightening.

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

 

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Mexico—Texas border relations . . .

In 1977 during my sixth year as a journeyman Customs inspector at the port of Progreso, Texas I was promoted to a first-level supervisory position at the port of Roma,Texas. Roma was a small port in terms of staffing, consisting of the port director, a first-level supervisor, the office manager and ten inspectors—one of the ten was a combination inspector and detector dog handler. The image at right shows the old international suspension bridge, built in 1927 and the new bridge completed in 1979. The old bridge remains as a historic structure and will only be used for pedestrian traffic.

A cursory review of enforcement records at the port presented a dismal picture of enforcement—either everyone that entered the port was scrupulously honest, or the inspection force was lax in its enforcement duties. The latter proved to be the case, and with the port director’s assistance and approval I developed and established procedures intended to improve the enforcement posture of the port. With only two exceptions the inspection staff was local, born and reared in the area with relatives on both sides of the international border. Complacency was the order of the day when I arrived, and I soon incurred the wrath of the inspectors and that of a goodly number of international travelers.

The seizures began to stack up—small amounts of various narcotics were intercepted by increasing the number of vehicles sent to the secondary inspection area, along with undeclared items such as alcoholic beverages, prohibited fruits, meats and plants. By checking vehicle serial numbers our interceptions of stolen vehicles began to rise, and Customs duties and fines collected on undeclared commercial importations and personal importations began to pour in to our cashier.

There was a new kid on the block, a supervisor that almost immediately incurred the displeasure of citizens of the local community, the inspection staff at the port, travelers from the interior of Mexico and local citizens from Miguel Aleman, Roma’s sister city on the other side of the Rio Grande River. I also incurred the wrath of our Mexican federal counterparts at the other end of the bridge spanning the river.

In the early days of my assignment at Roma, I frequently took the place of the officer at the primary inspection point, and in that position I checked vehicle interiors when traffic was light, and referred vehicles to the secondary inspection area when traffic increased. I also worked with inspectors in the secondary area, confirming declarations made at primary and searching travelers and their vehicle’s contents, and the seizures began to mount.

Miguel Aleman was the Mexican city at the other end of the suspension bridge spanning the Rio Grande River at Roma. The Mexican federal building housed a full staff of Customs, Immigration and Agriculture officers, all fully subject to United States laws when entering the country. Early one morning I checked a Mexican Customs officer and his vehicle, a Volkswagen bus, in the secondary area. The officer told the primary officer he was bringing nothing from Mexico, and repeated his declaration to me in secondary. I found two young boys hiding in the wagon, one behind the back seat and one hidden under the back seat.

The little fellow under the rear seat had crawled through a very small opening and the sliding panel was closed behind him. I slid the panel open, saw a pair of shoes and closed the panel. At that instant I realized that I had seen a pair of feet in that pair of shoes and I ordered the Mexican officer to extract his passenger—it wasn’t an easy task!

Questioning by U. S. Immigration officers determined that the boys were the officer’s nephews and neither boy had the documents necessary for entry in the United States, so the Mexican Customs officer hid them—he wanted to take them to the city of McAllen, Texas to purchase clothing and supplies for the coming school year—the small city of Roma offered very little in the way of shopping.

That stalwart representative of Mexico’s federal inspection force, regardless of his reasons, was guilty of breaking the laws of the United States. He could have easily secured a temporary pass from Immigration for the purpose, but he preferred to smuggle the boys in, just as he and others had done in the past, obviously feeling that no inspection would be made. That pretty well summarizes the enforcement posture that existed at the port of Roma prior to my assignment there. If two kids could be smuggled in without fear of detection, virtually any amount of illegal narcotics could pass with the same ease. I have no doubt that they did in the past, but I at least slowed them down during my tenure there, some two and one-half years.

The commander of Miguel Aleman’s federal Customs staff made a negative declaration to me at the primary point. I asked him to step out of the car—a late model Mark IV Lincoln—and open the trunk for inspection. With some hesitation but without protest, he opened the trunk and revealed a case of bottled alcoholic beverages purchased in Mexico. He said he was taking them to a friend in McAllen. I told him he was subject to a fine and forfeiture of the merchandise, and referred him to the Immigration office. He was allowed to continue with the importation after paying federal tax, Customs duties and Texas state tax on the liquor. The penalty in that instance should have been seizure and forfeiture of the merchandise and payment of a fine equal to the value of the merchandise. The decision to lessen the penalty was not mine—that was the decision of the Customs and Immigration chiefs—they felt that a more severe penalty would strain relations between U. S. and Mexican federal officers—go figure!

At that time I drove a Panama brown diesel Volkswagen Rabbit, and diesel in Mexico was only $.12 a gallon, a bargain that was not easily ignored. A few days after referring the Mexican commandante for possible seizure and forfeiture of the liquor I crossed the river for a diesel fill-up. I was in my official uniform, and prior to my encounter with the Mexican officer with the liquor I would have been passed with a friendly smile with no questions asked. Not this time—I was ordered to remain in line while the officer returned with the commandante. That worthy approached my car, stopped by the driver’s side and unsmilingly stared down at me—he was tall and my little Rabbit was not—with some trepidation I stared back at him. Neither of us spoke, and after an agonizingly long moment he motioned me to proceed. I continued to the gas station a few blocks from the bridge, filled up with diesel and returned to the United States without further incident.

That long silent moment before I was allowed to proceed was obviously meant to show me that he had the power to refer me for inspection, with or without a valid reason. His action was prompted by my referring him for questioning by Customs and Immigration officers. The obvious question to ask me at this point would be whether I was intimidated. The answer is a resounding yes—to use a time-worn analogy, my nerves were drawn so tight that my posterior was cutting washers out of the seat cover of that Rabbit.

Yes, I was intimidated—horror tales abound concerning detentions of Americans by Mexican officials, ranging from local police up to federal officers. In fact, a DEA officer, an official of our Drug Enforcement Administration, had recently been kidnapped and killed in Mexico. His murder was attributed to Mexico’s drug cartels rather than by Mexican federal officers but then, as now, the line between the two is often blurred.

Yes, I was intimidated, but it did not affect my duties as a supervisory U. S. Customs officer. I continued in the same vein for the rest of my stay at Roma, right up to the day that I transferred following my promotion to a second-level supervisory position at the international bridge at Brownsville, Texas. I continued to buy diesel for my Rabbit in Mexico, but I shunned Miguel Aleman’s theaters and restaurants—my diesel buying ended when the station pumped gasoline into the tank instead of diesel—they drained the tank and replaced the gasoline with diesel, explaining that a new employee made the mistake—yeah, right!

Suffice it to say that I made few friends and many enemies in the early days of my assignment to Roma, and that applied to our cadre of Customs, Immigration and Agriculture inspectors—they resented my treatment of their long-time friends and family members and their counterparts in Mexico. I accepted that as a hazard peculiar to my occupation—mine was a lonely job, but the pay was good and there was no heavy lifting, and I thrived on the rancor.

Speaking frankly, I didn’t like them any better than they liked me. Both I and they were pleased when two and one-half years later in 1980 I was promoted and transferred to the port of Brownsville, Texas. My promotion was based in large part on the improvements made in Roma’s enforcement posture—upper level management felt that a similar situation existed at Brownsville. In a meeting with an upper level official prior to the final selection to fill the vacancy at Brownsville, I was told that a strong enforcement-oriented supervisor was needed—actually the expression used was that a hard-ass supervisor was needed. Among other problems, enforcement was lax, and misuse of overtime was the order of the day. Evidently the selection board felt that I had the necessary qualifications including the hard-ass, because I was selected for the position. And yes, you guessed it—shortly after my arrival at Brownsville, with the assistance of the newly assigned chief inspector, inspection overtime was cut drastically and seizures and arrests rose dramatically. The majority of inspectors was not impressed, neither with me nor the chief inspector—they did not view the changes as improvements.

As the result of pressure from the ranks and from my supervisors, in the final few months at that station I stood alone against the cadre of five lower ranking supervisors, my equal rank counterpart, my immediate supervisor, the top level manager at the port and the National Treasury Employees Union. That pressure was terminated only following my promotion to U. S. Customs Headquarters in Washington, DC.

My contributions to the Customs mission during my three and one-half years at that station are well documented, as are my trials and tribulations. However, I can state honestly that I hold no animosity for the three officers that stood against me in the final months of my service there. To hold a grudge against dead people would be an exercise in futility. All three have since passed from this vale of tears, trials and tribulations, either to that shining international port of entry in the sky, or to a climate warmer even than that of South Texas. I cannot be certain, but I would suspect that some of the older inspectors have also dodged their last non-overtime job assignment. More than a few were at or past retirement age when I left the station 27 years ago. Whatever their official status now and their location, regardless of whatever sphere in which they dwell, I wish them well.

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

Postscript: I must acknowledge the fact that my immediate supervisor rated my final performance as outstanding, a rating that was reduced to just barely acceptable by his supervisor. That fact, however, cannot be confirmed. Shortly after the revised rating was submitted for entry into my records, I requested a copy—in the oft-used words by Gomer Pyle of Mayberry fame, surprise, surprise! The evaluation could not be located—it somehow had been lost between submission by the port and acceptance by Headquarters, either lost, misplaced or deliberately removed and destroyed. Who knows, and who cares? At this point in my life, not I!



 
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Posted by on October 4, 2010 in bridge, law enforcement

 

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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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A Rabbit with an attitude . . .

A Rabbit with an attitude . . .

While employed as a supervisory Customs inspector at the international bridge in Brownsville, Texas I worked numerous 4-12 evening shifts. When a spot was available, I parked in front of the Customhouse along an aluminum guard rail placed between outgoing traffic and the secondary inspection area.

On one memorable evening an inspector came to my office and told me that my car had been involved in an accident. It seemed that a tourist in an RV, a heavily loaded pickup truck with a slide-in camper, was somewhat unhappy with his inspection and was in a hurry to leave the area.

When the angry driver backed up to turn around in the inspection area, his rear bumper hit my rear bumper on the right corner at a 45-degree angle and jammed the left front bumper of my car against the guard rail. The conjunction of the two bumpers and their shapes, and the conjunction of the front bumper and the guard rail and their shapes, changed my car’s appearance forever. Nope, I never had the damage repaired.

The simultaneous contact of my car’s rear with the truck and its nose with the guard rail left my 1978 Volkswagen, a Panama Brown diesel Rabbit, in deplorable condition—visually, that is—the accident affected its appearance but not its performance.

The rear bumper was turned sharply up at its right corner, and the front bumper was turned sharply up at its left corner. Viewed from the front the little car resembled a snarling dog, the corner of its mouth turned up in a warning to something or someone, either animal or human. Viewed from the rear it looked like a dog with its right hind leg lifted, its foot high in the air in the stance a dog adopts when it urinates. Had the tourist hit the car and pushed it straight against the guard rail my Rabbit would probably have bent in the middle and wound up looking like a dog humped for a dump—that’s just speculation, of course, and a bit crude, but you get the picture, right?

I left Texas a few months later, headed for an assignment at Customs headquarters in Washington, D.C., and I passed my Rabbit over to one of my daughters. At the time she was commuting to work between Brownsville and Donna, Texas, a daily round trip of a hundred miles. A couple of years later I donated the Rabbit to the Salvation Army in McAllen, Texas with its lip still turned up in a snarl and its rear leg still lifted in that classic doggie stance.

At the time of our parting the little car had performed beautifully for 186,000 miles—the only maintenance in that time, other than routine oil changes, was the replacement of a broken fan belt that gave up the ghost at 100,000 miles. My little Rabbit did have a strange quirk, however. Its fuel supply had only one small strainer between the tank and the cylinders, and when the strainer became blocked the car would begin to slow down, and would finally come to a stop with the engine starved for fuel.

That is a subject worthy of a future posting, so stay tuned.

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

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2010 in bridge, cars, drivers, Humor, Uncategorized

 

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1947 World Series on television—in color!

Baseball’s 1947 World Series on television—in color!

I’ll bet my daughters don’t know that I watched the very first World Series baseball game broadcast on television. That was in October 1947, played between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers—the Yankees won the series in the seventh game. My brother and I watched the game through the showcase windows of a closed Sears store in Washington, D.C.—in color—very poor color, but still color. Click here for a description of the game.

I was living with my brother and his family in Carry Homes, a community of one-story duplexes in Suitland, Maryland, built mainly for, and primarily occupied by, veterans returning from overseas in World War II. Most of our neighbors were either active duty, retirees or discharged war veterans. Carry Homes community has long since been demolished, giving way to progress and eminent domain exercised by the government—the site is now occupied by the federal Census Bureau.

I went with my brother to the Sears store in Washington, D.C. one evening to pick up some truck parts. Sears was a fascinating place for me—parking on the street was limited, so most customers parked on the roof of the store and then walked down a flight of stairs to the shopping areas below. Hey, there was nothing like that in my little town of Durant, Mississipi, my last home before being shuffled off to live with my brother.

On that evening we parked on the street opposite the store, but found that the store had closed just a few minutes before we arrived. The television was placed in a storefront window for the benefit of pedestrians in the area. This was my first encounter with television, either color or black-and-white, and not until December of 1952 would I see television again—that was in an Atlanta motel while I waited for the next morning to begin my reenlistment in the United States Air Force. I was scheduled for a physical exam and indoctrination the following day. That event is worth reading about—click here for the full story.

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

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2010 in baseball, television

 

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The Chesapeake Bay ferry . . .

The Chesapeake Bay ferry . . .

This is a story of beagles, a bachelor and a bridge, a Crosely convertible auto, Chesapeake Bay, a ferryboat and deep sand. It’s a story of an overnight business trip my brother and I took to Salisbury, Maryland in 1947—yes, that’s some 63 years ago but I remember many of the details, and I promise to tell the story with no embellishments.

My brother was in the trucking business in the Washington, D.C. area in those years. He returned from overseas duty in World War II, acquired two 1946 two-ton dump trucks—a Ford and a Chevrolet—signed up several other independent truck owners and secured various contracts for hauling. One contract was for hauling coal to federal buildings in DC, buildings that were steam-heated in those days. Other contracts included hauling sand, gravel and asphalt for road construction in the Washington/Baltimore area. I acquired my first traffic ticket at the University of Maryland while driving one of his trucks loaded with ten tons of hot asphalt—I was fourteen years old, and the fine was $17.95, immediately paid in cash to a sharp-eyed Maryland state trooper. I’ll hold the other details for a future posting. Stay tuned!

The trip to Salisbury was to discuss a possible contract, and I went along on the trip from Suitland, Maryland to Salisbury near the tip of the Chesapeake peninsula. There was no Chesapeake Bay bridge then—that bridge was completed in 1952—in 1947 a ferryboat provided access to the peninsula. We made the trip in a 1941 Crosely convertible—yes, an auto made by the same people that made refrigerators and radios, autos that initially were sold through hardware store outlets.

Our Crosely was a two-door, four passenger convertible with an air-cooled two cylinder engine that moved the car 50-60 miles on one gallon of gasoline. It was lightweight, about 1000 pounds. I remember us changing the left front tire by loosening the lug nuts, then my brother holding up the left corner of the car until I could remove and replace the wheel and tighten up the lug nuts.

We were the first in line to board the ferry, and we were the first to debark. We had a problem because the rise from the ferryboat floor was too high for us to climb without making a running start, and we were jammed between the incline and the car behind us. After several tries, the driver behind gave us a not-so-gentle bump and bounced us up onto the dock. Our trusty transportation would face another problem late in the evening that day.

My brother’s business was completed late in the evening and we were traveling through dense fog trying to return to the ferry dock for a return the next morning. We made a couple of wrong turns and wound up in deep sand on an unpaved road out in the boondocks. Our Crosely tried mightily to best the sand but finally gave up the effort. We abandoned the car and trudged through the sand towards lights in the distance.

The lights turned out to be the home of an aged life-long bachelor, one that sported a bald head and a full beard and raised beagles—a bearded bald beagle-raising bachelor—just a little alliteration there. Our host was a gentle and talkative soul that bade us welcome, served sandwiches and milk soon after we knocked on his door and invited us to spend the night, saying that at daylight he would use his tractor to haul our car out of the deep sand and on to a paved road.

Whether the beagles were raised for commercial purposes or show was never made clear, but please know that there were lots and lots—and lots—of beagles there. They seemed to come and go, so a true count was impossible because they all looked alike. They had the run of the house, and shared the dining table with us as we supped—every chair around the large dining table was occupied by at least two beagles, all quiet, well mannered  and evidently well-fed because there was no begging. They simply sat and watched us in silence, obviously and politely acknowledging us as guests.

They also shared our sleeping quarters. The single bedroom had a standard-size bed and a cot—I slept on the cot and my brother shared the bed with our host. I had several beagles at the foot of the cot, and several more shared the bed with the bachelor and my brother.

Our Crosely was extracted from the sand with the tractor without mishap, and we were hauled a short distance to a paved road, with our benefactor of the previous night giving instructions to the ferry landing. I don’t recall whether  my brother offered to compensate him for the food and lodging, but I don’t believe the offer would have been accepted—of course I could be wrong about that.

Just one more memory of our trip:

Have you seen the mud flaps on commercial trucks with the name Fruehauf? I met the man—he was elderly, he drove a 1942 Lincoln Continental with a 12-cylinder inline engine and he wore long-handle underwear, the type with the flap in back. How do I know that? There was snow on the ground and I was in my shirt sleeves and complaining about the cold. He first turned up his sleeve then pulled up his trouser leg to show the underwear and said, “Thon, you thud wear thith, and don’t give a thart about how you look.” Yes, he spoke with a lisp.

And that reminds me of an incident involving a girl with a lisp and a request for Super Suds washing powder—I’ll get back to you later with the details. Stay tuned!

Hey, here’s a boat joke: Have you heard about the little tugboat that was unhappy because his mother was a tramp and his daddy was a ferry? Think about it—the joke is there—it’s politically incorrect but it’s there!

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

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2010 in bridge, bridges, drivers, driving, Travel

 

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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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Second letter to Larry, my brother (1919-1983) . . .

Dear Larry,

Next month will mark the twenty-seventh year that has passed since that October day in 1983 when you, as Shakespeare has so poignantly observed, “shuffled off this mortal coil.” As you probably are aware, I did not attend your funeral, but I can make no apology for that—when the call came with the news, I was en route to Washington’s National Airport to take a flight to Miami for an assignment that was critical to my job with the U.S. Customs Service.

I had prepared for the flight for several weeks and could not afford to miss it. I’m sure you understand—the bills were still arriving with monotonous regularity—I know it’s trite to say, but I needed to be able to “put food on the table and shoes on the baby’s feet.” Please know that I was there with you in spirit—I thought of little else on the flight to Florida.

I’ve written letters to two of our sisters, Hattie and Jessie, and I plan to write to Dot and Lorene, our other two sisters, and possibly in the future to our mother, our father and even to the stepfather our mother unwisely allowed into the family in 1942. All are gone now, but I trust and would like to believe that you are in communication with them. I have serious doubts that the stepfather is available—he may be somewhat lower on the metaphysical level of existence than the others.

I would like to couch this letter in terms of us remembering certain times when we were together. My memories are still just as fresh as they ever were, and I hope yours are also—I would not want to talk about happenings that you may not remember.

I remember vividly the fishing trip you took me on when I was about four, perhaps five years old. We lived at the old Box place in Vernon, Alabama, and we went fishing in Yellow Creek near the house. My float went under and I snatched the hook out of the water and snagged it on an overhead branch. I thought I had a really big fish until you reached up to remove the hook—I was really disappointed, but at least you had a good laugh.

You were at home on leave from President Roosevelt’s CCC—the Civilian Conservation Corps—a respite from helping build in Utah what you described as“ roads that started nowhere and ended nowhere.” The family had a homecoming party that included a washtub filled with ice and beer. Someone left a partially filled can on an inside table and I drank some of it, and a short while later I stood on the top step of our front porch and barfed it up in view of the entire family. Shades of child abuse!

Do you remember taking me on a rabbit hunt on a snow-covered day just a year two later when I was in the first grade? We were living on Eleventh Street South in Columbus, Mississippi and you were home, once again, from Roosevelt’s CCC. We only found one rabbit that day, but that one generated memories that are burned into my psyche—memories of the rabbit, a nylon stocking and a bedpost that will always be there. A click here will refresh your memory and will create a memory for any potential viewer of this letter.

Do you remember when I was living with you and your wife Toni and your two boys in Suitland, Maryland and I broke my right leg sliding in to home plate in a ball game? I had a full cast from my toes to mid-thigh, with a forty-five degree angle at the knee, and you bought a set of crutches for my use. Long before the cast came off, I used one of the crutches in an attempt to kill a pesky bee and broke it—the crutch, not the bee—the bee escaped unharmed. In spite of my pleas, you refused to replace the crutch, saying that what I did was dumb, that it’s impossible to buy just one crutch and you told me to manage with the remaining crutch—I managed.

I wrote a long-winded story, more than a bit fictional, of that broken leg, a tale that was told and can be found here. The tale tells how I and my Little League team won the national and international championship that year.

You bought me my first bicycle, a beautiful item that needed only the pedals, seat and handlebars installed to make it complete, but you made me disassemble it right down to the wheel bearings which I cleaned and repacked with the special grease you used on your fleet of trucks. I followed orders with some resentment, but I realize now that your method contributed to the bike’s longevity and to my safety. Click here for the full story of my first bike, first kiss and first train ride.

You may have put this memory aside, but I remember coming home late one evening and you were seated in the living room with a half-full pint of whiskey, and Toni was crawling around on her hands and knees on the floor, groaning and moaning and mumbling. You explained that you had caught her at a place where she should not have been, with a person she should not have been with. You said she had swallowed a lot of sleeping pills and that you would take her to the hospital to have her stomach pumped out after she went to sleep. Toni was mumbling something over and over that sounded suspiciously like he hit me, but I couldn’t be sure—it could have been my imagination.

Being a young fellow of at least average intelligence, I took my leave and returned to the apartment in Suitland that our mother and our sister Dot were renting from month-to-month, and stayed there until things quieted down. We never discussed the incident after that evening—I don’t know whether you took her to the hospital or to a doctor. I’m guessing that she did the same thing with the pills that I did with the beer I drank at that party some ten years earlier. That would probably have rendered a trip to the hospital or to a doctor unnecessary.

The outcome of that incident was a temporary breakup of your family. Toni and the boys went to her mother’s place in New York City, and you and I returned to Mississippi. I have no knowledge of your activities or whereabouts for several years, and just four years later in 1948 I was reunited with you and your family in El Paso, Texas as the result of our stepfather casting me, our mother and our sister Dot aside in Midland, Texas and we managed to negotiate the 300 miles to El Paso on a Greyhound bus.

That refuge was broken up a short while later—our mother and sister returned to Mississippi, your wife and sons took a plane to New York City, and you and I pursued her—our pursuit first took us to Dallas where we met the Greyhound bus you thought she may have taken from El Paso. You said she may have taken the train and we could meet the train in St. Louis. We failed to meet the train in St. Louis because we spent the night in jail in Valley Park, a suburb some 20 miles west of St. Louis. We continued on to New York City and stayed with Toni and the children in her mother’s apartment in Greenwich Village for several weeks, and finally from there back to Mississippi. If your memory is faulty in this instance and you have access to the Internet, click here for the full story of our trip across the continent to New York.

Do you remember the sleeping arrangements in your mother-in-law’s apartment? It was a two-room affair with a tiny bathroom, and we slept, cooked and dined in one large room—pretty crowded but far better than our room in the Valley Park jail. I was accustomed to such luxurious surroundings from years spent in places that either had no bathroom or the bathroom was somewhere down the hall and shared with others.

As for our sleeping arrangements, I remember that the two boys shared a baby bed, and each night we placed the top mattress of the only bed on the floor for you and Toni, and I slept on the bottom mattress on the bed near the window.

I’m sure you remember the night when an intruder threw a leg over the sill of the apartment’s only window! Although we were on the second floor of the building, someone managed to climb up and enter through the open window. The shade was pulled down—yes, windows had shades in those days—and when the intruder straddled the window sill the shade rustled and you awoke and shouted and threw a shoe at the window. One loud curse and the burglar was gone. We never knew exactly how the person climbed up to the window. Evidently the intruder survived the drop, because there was nobody in sight when we finally got up enough nerve to raise the shade and take a look outside.

We finished the night with the window closed, and without the occasional breezes that slipped into the apartment. We had a really uncomfortable night. Nope, no air conditioning in those days, and no fan. I hadn’t slept well before the incident, and it certainly didn’t reduce my insomnia for the remaining nights in that apartment.

I remember you and Toni arguing one morning and you telling her that we were leaving and that you were taking the two children with you. I will never forget Toni running downstairs to the sidewalk, screaming for the police, and returning with two of New York’s finest. The officers said that you and I could leave and take our personal things with us, but nothing else—you were ordered, under the threat of arrest, to not attempt to take the children away from their mother.

You left the apartment before I did, and as I was leaving Toni told me that if I ever needed anything to call her. I never saw her or talked to her again—I know that she remarried, but I never knew her married name or her whereabouts, and to this day I do not know whether she has also shuffled off this mortal coil—if still alive today she would be about 86 years old. I would like to believe that she is alive and well—I have never wished her anything other than well, and whatever the event, I still wish her well.

I doubt that you ever saw the picture I’ve included in this letter. It’s from a 35-millimeter slide, probably taken in the mid-1970s—I’m guessing 1975 because there were some other slides that showed our 1975 Oldsmobile 98—it looks new, and we bought it in that year. The slide was scanned in and printed by Cindy, your niece that lives, loves and works in Alexandria, Virginia. Unless my memory fails me, the black-and-tan hound was named Bugler, and the little Cocker Spaniel in the lower right corner was named Useless.

Larry, there are many things I would like to discuss with you, but this letter seems to have legs. Let me chop them off for now, with the promise of returning soon with a whole new set of reminisces. I trust that you and any potential viewers of this letter will understand my feelings and my reasons for taking them back in time. Some of my memories are pleasant, and I enjoy speaking of them. Not all are pleasant, of course, but in this world of Yen and Yang we must take the good with the bad, and learn to smile with the one and frown with the other.

From your only brother, the only member of our family still standing—all the others are gone.

Mike

Postscript: Regarding the names of the two dogs in the image above, my memory did indeed fail me. My niece in Arkansas, my brother’s daughter, e-mailed me on 9-5-10 to say that the black-and-tan-hound was named Sam and Bugler was his pup, and the Cocker Spaniel I presented as Useless was named Puny. Thanks, Deanna, for straightening the names out for me.

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

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Goat in my hotel room . . .

Near the end of my three-year assignment to US Customs Headquarters in the nation’s capital, I traveled to Seattle, then to Blaine, Washington, then to San Francisco and on to Los Angeles on official business—my duties at that time were those of the National Program Manager for Custom’s detector dog program. In Seattle I met a fellow officer from Los Angeles, and together we observed and evaluated Customs’ operations in Seattle, at Customs’ land border port of entry at Blaine near the Canadian border,  Customs’  operations in San Francisco and finally Customs operations in Los Angeles, with concentration on the detector dog program in the various locations.

My purpose in this post is not to bore the viewer with details of Customs enforcement programs—my purpose is to relate two separate incidents, one that was hilarious and one that was somewhat embarrassing.

My fellow Customs officer told me that his baby in Los Angeles would meet us in San Francisco and travel with us back to Los Angeles. I assumed that his baby was his wife, and therein lies a tale. His baby, an amiable and quite presentable young woman—much younger than he—dined with us at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco that evening, checked into the hotel with him and traveled with us on the flight from to Los Angeles the following day. Dinner at Fisherman’s Wharf included fried octopus, my reluctant first—and definitely last—encounter with that creature as cuisine.

We had adjoining rooms at an upscale hotel near the airport. When I went to check out, my fellow officer was already checking out, so I fell into line behind him. While I waited I heard him tell the woman behind the desk that he was bothered by noises coming from the room adjoining his. He said there was a party in that room that included an animal, one that sounded suspiciously like a goat or a sheep, and that the sounds continued late into the night.

The clerk registered a mixture of surprise, skepticism, incredulity and something akin to horror, and said that she would tell the manager right away and an investigation would be made. I stepped forward and told the clerk that the room was mine, and that all the party goers were of sound mind and legal age—including the goat.

Okay, I admit it—that was funny, but the surprise that awaited me at his home the next night when I accepted his invitation to dinner was not funny. I arrived with a screw-top bottle of fine wine, rang the door bell and was invited into the house by a very lovely and very pregnant lady that introduced herself as the wife of my fellow officer. Nope, it was not the same baby that met us in San Francisco and traveled to Los Angeles with us—didn’t even come close. The best part of the evening was my feeling of satisfaction with my selection of wine for a dinner gift.

That was an embarrassing moment for me. I wisely held my counsel until the following day, at which time I ticked off the reasons why I should not have been misled. My scorn was wasted on him—he found the incident far funnier than the goat in my hotel room debacle.

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

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2010 in Humor, marriage, Travel, Writing

 

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Letter to the editor, McAllen Monitor, from a double-dipper . . .

I wrote this letter to the editor of the McAllen Monitor while employed with the U.S. Customs Service in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. I spent twelve years on the Mexican border (1971–1983) as a Customs inspector, progressing from trainee to first level supervisor to second level supervisor, then transferred to Customs Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

This letter was my response to an editorial published by the McAllen daily newspaper, the Monitor. I never got the editorial update I requested, but I was rewarded by several subsequent submissions from the public on my criticism of the paper’s rant against “double-dipping” Civil Service workers, submissions that reflected and supported my comments on the paper’s editorial.

The McAllen Monitor
McAllen TX, Sept 17, 1977

Letter to the Editor:

Your editorial of Tuesday, August 30 entitled “Welfare—Civil Service Style,” is an unbridled and unprincipled attack on a segment of our population that has done nothing to deserve such an attack. You present only one side of the story and leave too much unsaid.

You say that there are 150,000 military retirees in federal service. How many military retirees are not in federal service? You estimate the average annual pensions of the 150,000 at $6,000 plus, and their annual Civil Service salaries at $12,000 plus. You don’t mention the extremes that make up those averages. You don’t mention the retired privates and corporals and sergeants, nor the many low-paying Wage Board and General Schedule jobs filled by military retirees. You say nothing of the merit selection and promotion systems in which military retirees compete equally with all others for employment and promotion.

You cite two extreme cases involving high salaries but you say nothing of the positions. Were they unique? Were the retirees qualified? Did they possess unique skills in scientific, professional or administrative fields that were urgently needed by the government? Skills that were not readily available from other sources? Since these things were left unsaid, they could well be possible.

You say that “98 percent of those who apply for federal disability retirement get it.” You omit the fact that virtually all those applications are based on years of service completed. Retirement eligibility has already been established. It has already been earned, regardless of whether the request for disability is approved.

You use the term “100 percent disability” as an all-inclusive condition, indicating that the retiree is supposedly unable to function as a worker. You either overlook the fact, or you are unaware of the fact that the disability percentage applies, not to the individual but to the percentage of his retired pay that will be exempted from federal taxes. And you overlook the fact that a retiree’s disability may have no effect in the career fields different from the one he is leaving.

You say nothing of other retired people in federal service. How many retirees from city, county and state Civil Service systems are employed in U.S. Civil Service? How many retired railroad workers? How many retired policemen, firemen and merchant seamen? How many independently wealthy people are employed by the federal government? Would you have our United States senator from McAllen resign his office? I’m certain his “outside income” is at least equal to the average military retiree’s pension.

I am ashamed and embarrassed by your editorial, not for myself or for the other military retirees in Civil Service, but for your editorial staff—for its lack of sensitivity and understanding and for its one-sided presentation of facts. I feel personally offended by such distorted reporting. I traded a military career spanning 22 years and two wars for a pension with no disability. Evidently my disabilities were not among those “relatively easy to fake.” I am now employed with the U.S. government and I am labeled a “welfare case” by you and your staff.

I cheerfully admit that I am a double-dipper, and I intend to continue double-dipping after retiring with a full pension at age 60 after 20 years of federal Civil Service. And I also intend to draw Social Security benefits based on maximum quarters paid in during military service. I suppose that will make me a triple dipper. Actually, I am already a triple-dipper because I am currently receiving educational benefits under the GI Bill. I suppose you would consider that another “welfare” payment.

You probably won’t get much repercussion from your editorial. The Valley is not a favorite of military retirees because of the high cost of living and the absence of those military facilities that provide additional welfare benefits—hospitals, commissaries, exchanges, etc. A military-oriented community—San Antonio, for example—would react more strongly.

Are our past wars really so distant that you feel free to use your critical and influential editorial space and privilege to condemn and label, as “welfare recipients,” people who served their country honorably in the armed forces for 20 years or more?

I would appreciate an editorial update, a note possibly, to the effect that while the system that permits double and triple dipping may be faulty, those involved in it are not. Not all of them “faked” their disabilities, and not all of them are simply “dipping in.” They are also “putting back.” Most were professional and dedicated military men, and most will never dip out enough with their pensions to compensate for the hardships, privation, and dangers they endured through their long military careers.

No military retiree objects to the highly descriptive, albeit somewhat derogatory, term of “double-dipper.” You may be sure, however, that every retiree objects to the “welfare” label. We deserve, and have earned, more honorable mention.

Hershel M. Dyer
Donna, Texas

 

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Letter to Lorene, dated January 25, 1994 . . .

This posting is a letter I wrote to one of my sisters, the prettiest one and a lady that has always been at the top of my list of best loved, but don’t tell the other sisters or their children—they might not understand! This lovely lady left us behind almost seven years ago. I’m sharing the letter on Word Press because many people that knew and loved her are visitors to my blog, and this letter includes a lot of history from 1994. The image on the right shows the beautiful teenager that Elmer met and married after a brief engagementa very brief angagement! We miss her.

San Antonio Int’l Airport

January 25, 1994

Dear Rene,

I’m certain you are aware that just because B follows A does not mean that B was caused by A, or in fact is in any way associated with A except, of course, by virtue of B’s position immediately following A’s position in the alphabet or to put it another way, by virtue of A’s position immediately preceding B’s position in the alphabet. So the fact that you called and talked for a long time the other day does not necessarily mean that this letter was caused by that phone call, or in fact is in any way associated with it.

However, we can put the matter to a scientific test. You keep calling and see if a letter follows each phone call. After a few years of that, we will be able to determine if there is any correlation between the two events. Betcha there is, betcha there is, huh, huh, whatcha wanna bet, huh, huh?

Correlation or not, it sure was pleasant talking with you. I know you’re glad to be back home. Seems like every time we leave, the urge to get back becomes stronger and stronger. I’m like Papa John Weathers—I guess I hate to have my routine messed up! That’s good news about Jessie recovering from her accident so well. I know that brace is a bummer but as you said, she’ll just have to adjust to it.

Got time for a couple of jokes? Stop me if you’ve heard these, okay?

The Lone Ranger and Tonto rode into town and stopped at the saloon. The Lone Ranger said, Tonto, my horse is really hot from all that galloping. Run around him a few times to stir up the air and help him cool off. The Lone Ranger went into the saloon and a few minutes later a guy came in, tapped him on the shoulder and said, Hey, man, you left your Injun running.

The doctor examined a guy and told him he only had six months to live. The guy said Doc, there’s no way I’ll be able to pay what I owe you in just two months. The doctor said, Okay, in that case I’ll give you a year.

One more doctor joke: A guy’s doctor called him and said, I have good news and bad news for you. The good news is that your tests showed you have only two days to live. The guy said, That’s the good news? What’s the bad news? Nothing could be worse than that. The doctor said, Wanna bet? The bad news is that I’ve been trying to contact you for the last two days.

Well, I’ll shut up. Don’t blame me for the jokes. They came from Kelley. If the subject matter doesn’t depress you the subject matter will—oops, that’s another joke. Kelley heard the jokes from Gordon, and he made her promise not to repeat them, and she made me promise not to repeat them, so I want you to promise not to repeat them. They are so bad that they must be stopped!

Speaking of depressed, I have a program called Quicken which tracks all kinds of good stuff, including one’s finances. I spent several hours loading all my “finances” into it, then called up a report showing the totals. I was really happy with them until I divided what I have now by the number of years I’ve been working. Boy, am I depressed!. The program is a lot of fun, though. Gives you all sorts of charts and graphs, all in beautiful color. I just wish I had more to put into them.

I’m not really depressed. I have a wife that loves me, three daughters that love me, two grandchildren that love me, two big sisters that love me, a whole passel of nieces and grandnieces and nephews and grandnephews and even a couple, perhaps, of great grandnieces or maybe great grandnephews—don’t know whether they love me but all would if they knew me. I also have two cats and a dog that love me (I don’t care much for the dog), a good paying job with no heavy lifting, a nice place to live and a nice house to live in, way too much to eat, and good health. No, I’m not depressed, I’m blessed—hey, I made a rhyme!. See there, I’m even talented to go with all the above.

I said the job required no heavy lifting, but I just remembered something. Did I tell you about pulling a back muscle while lifting a heavy suitcase for an elderly lady last year? Well, I did, and suffered severe lower back pains. Went to the doctor and he said I had muscle trauma. I was sure it was kidney stones, and asked the doctor why it was taking me so long to get recover if it was only muscle trauma. And he said it was because I was a fat old man. Well, he didn’t actually say I was a fat old man. He said it’s because You’re 60 years old and overweight. So I left the doctor’s office and stopped at MacDonald’s for breakfast. I have lost some weight since then, though, and I’m working on the rest of it.

It’s 7 p.m. now, and I’m halfway through this 3-11 shift. The first 4 hours seem to pass fast, probably because we have several flights. The last 4 hours drag on and on. Seems like 11 o’clock will never come, but it always does, of course. Boring as the shift may be, you’ll never hear me griping to go on day shift. I’ve been doing this now for two and a half years, and I wouldn’t take the day shift on a dare. In fact, I live in fear that the other supervisor will decide he wants to evenings for awhile. Not too much danger of that, though. He is a politician, loves to make Chamber of Commerce meetings and other activities, and there’s not much of that on the evening shift.

Time has really flashed by since we returned to San Antonio. March will be seven years since I left Houston, one of the happiest days of my life, leaving Houston. Not because I was coming back to San Antonio, but because I was leaving Houston. I never really planned on staying in Customs this long, but as I’ve said before—at least I think I’ve said it before)—it’s hard to quit just when the money is good and the living is easy. It’s been so long since I really had to expend any significant effort on the job that I’m not sure just what kind of product I would come up with if I were asked to produce. So I’ll go on hoping I won’t be asked!

I see by the old computer screen that I’m near the end of the page, so I’ll close, or else I’ll have to subject you to another full page. I have lots more, but I’ll save it for the next letter.

Lots of love, from me and all of mine to you and all of yours.

SUPRISE! I’m back. Just called Alta and she said she had just finished talking to you, so I cranked up the word processor again. Alta said she asked what size unmentionables you wore so she could fill up the box she is sending. If it’s the one I’m thinking of, you won’t have to worry about bloomers for a long while, because the best I remember there is quite a bit of room there—in the box, I mean, not in your bloomers. Did she tell you about packing the outfit in a small box, then checking it later and finding that some of the stuff she put on it had been squashed—is that spelled right, or is squashed even a word? Anyway, she had to do it over. The more I look at squashed the worse it looks.

Our weather is still wet. It’s beginning to remind me of Viet Nam where we had to wrap our billfolds in plastic to keep the leather from getting moldy. And if we left a pair of shoes for several days without wearing them, they grew beards and moustaches. That sure seems like a long time ago. Well, shucks, it was a long time ago. I got back to the states in June of 1970. Would you believe more than 23 years ago?

Sometimes I have to work very hard to make myself believe I was even over there. I saw a movie the other night about the war, and relatives visiting the Viet Nam memorial in Washington, D.C. and placing different articles at the base of the wall. I went there several times while we were in Washington. It’s quite an experience, watching the grief displayed by so many of the people there. Some people call it the “Wall of Shame.” It seems to bring about a release of the emotions that people have kept bottled up inside themselves. I’ve seen hardened veterans fall to their knees and weep unashamedly, oblivious of everything else and everyone around them. It’s not an easy thing to watch, and it’s impossible to see such an outpouring of grief without being affected. And how in the hell I ever got into this subject is beyond me, but I’ll get out of it now.

Well, what can we talk about now? Did I tell you I have almost all the Louis Lamour books, the paperbacks? I think I have 105, and he wrote 110 or so. I even built a special bookcase for them—well, for them and for some other paperbacks. I also collected novels by John D. Hamilton, Ed McBain, Lawrence Sanders and a couple of others, along with a lot of the old western, the ones that were printed in the forties and fifties and sixties. And some day I’ll get around to re-reading them!

Compact discs are the big thing now. Grolier’s Encyclopedia has been put on a single disc, the same size as a music disc. And another disc has almost 2000 books on it, 2000 of the world’s great literary works, every word, complete and unabridged. I have a compact disc reader/player, and I’ve spent quite a bit of time at the San Diego Zoo, and in the Gallapagos Islands and South America’s rain forests and Australian deserts, at the Grand Canyon and all the national parks, all without leaving home. It’s a marvelous invention, especially for the world’s shut-ins, and it’s a shame that right now the cost is prohibitive for many of the people who could most benefit from such programs. The cost is coming down, but will still be out of reach for many people. And then again, maybe they don’t want it. What do I know? Maybe they all would rather watch Fresh Prince of BelAire, or some of the other zillion or so TV programs that pretend to be entertainment.

Boy, am I up on my soapbox, or what! Oh, drats! I’ve just come to the end of another page, and that means I’ll have to think of something to talk about to fill up that page, too. How about that drats? How long since you’ve heard that? I think it may be the first time I’ve used it, but it won’tbe the last. Has a nice sound to it. Try it. Drats! Drats! DRATS!

Speaking of jive, how do you like rap music? I hate it, I hate it, I HATE IT! And I hate it regardless of what color the rapper is whether black, white, brown, yellow or purple. I hate it, so I use the only weapon I have—I don’t buy it, and I don’t listen to it any longer than it takes to turn it off.

San Antonio had a murder here a few nights ago. Murder is common here, far too common. This one, however, was different. No jealous lover or husband or drug deal involved. The dead man was a husband and father of three, active church member, finished choir practice, called his wife and told her he would be home soon, just had to stop at an automated teller machine and make a night deposit. A 17 year old boy and 13 year old girl waylaid him and made him give them his personal identification number for the money machine. His body was found on the side of the freeway, shot through the head, and several cash withdrawals had been made at various locations in the area with his card. Both the teenagers are in custody. The girl said in her statement that she was holding the gun on the man and her boy friend didn’t like the way she was doing it, so he took the gun from her and shot the guy.

I’ve changed my mind about a lot of things in the last few years, and capital punishment is one of them. I never believed in it before, but now I do. I feel nothing whatsoever for the two people involved, regardless of their ages. They took something away from another person, and they should pay for the crime by giving up the same thing. And the sooner the better. They better hope I don’t get on the jury. When the judge asks me if I can render a fair and impartial verdict, I’ll say, Yes sir, Your Honor, boy, oh, boy can I ever render a fair and impartial verdict, just put me on that jury and see how fast I can render a fair and impartial verdict, and as soon as I render that fair and impartial verdict, I’ll help you hang ’em or shoot ’em or fry ’em or draw and quarter ’em, however you want it done, just so long as it’s done soon and I get to help do it. I’m dreaming, of course. They would never let me serve on a jury.

Well, I really have to shut up now. If I keep on I’ll have to send this thing in two envelopes. Once again, lots of love from me and all of mine to you and all of yours.

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2010 in death, law enforcement, Military, politics

 

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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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Ode to a cheesecake . . .

In the winter of 2009 during the heavy snowstorms in and around Washington, D.C., an incident occurred in Alexandria that generated several postings on Word Press. Pending their annual Chocolate Party my son-in-law, the one that’s married to my daughter that lives, loves and works in Virginia, buried a huge cheesecake in their backyard flower garden under two feet of snow, an interment necessitated by the lack of storage space in their refridgeraterrefrigereter—refrigeretar. Oh, damn it, in their icebox!

Click here to read my daughter’s explanation of the unprecedented backyard burial.

I composed a rather brilliant poem—well, somewhat brilliant—well, at least it rhymes—and used it to comment on the incident. That comment, unlike the cheesecake arisen from the grave, remains buried under an avalanche of postings by my daughter. I am resurrecting it, bringing it up from and out of the Stygian darkness of the nether world of comments and into the bright light of day for others to enjoy.

Because I took the liberty of borrowing a few words and phrases from several prominent writers and using them in my poem—horribly fractured, of course—I humbly offer my abject apologies to the preacher John Donne, to the poet Joyce Kilmer, to my favorite author Henry David Thoreau and to my daughter in Virginia, the author of An apology to the wood anemone.

I also apologize to visitors to my blog—I apologize in advance for wishing a pox on those that do not visit, and a double pox on those that visit and fail to comment on my postings. Finally, I apologize for making so many apologies—I cannot help myself—it’s something I cannot control. I apologize often in an effort to dodge or divert or at least minimize criticism—it’s in my nature—mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa maxima.

Please note that I freely admit that I apologize far too often, but I am thankful to report that it’s one of only two faults. In addition to the fault of copiously apologizing, I am also modest to a fault. Sans apologies and modesty, I would be perfect!

Ode to a cheesecake

Breathes there one with soul so dead
That never to one’s self hath said
Methinks that I shall never see
A word so lovely as anemone.

Offed from my tongue it rolls
Sadly as the bell that tolls
Not for thee and not for me
Nor for the lovely anemone.

But for the cheesecake in its bower
Not ‘neath trees nor plants nor showers
Nay, ‘neath snowstorms full of power
Lying beneath the snow for hours

In wait for the chocolate party
To be eaten by goers hearty.

But wait, what’s that I see
Beside the cheesecake ‘neath the snow
The anemone arises ready to go
With the cheesecake to the table

Petals eight to be divided
‘Mongst the diners so excited
A ‘nemone to see.

They smell the petals
They hear the bell
They’ll come to know
As time will tell

If snow and cheesecake
Sounds their knell
Or leaves them alive
And well.

— H.M. Dyer (1932-     )


I neglected to give credit to Sir Walter Scott for his poem The lay of the last minstrel in my Ode to a cheesecake—credit is now given. I also neglected to say that I loved your poem An apology to the wood anemone—well done! Your cheesecake arising from the snow is reminiscent of Thoreau’s Walden in which he tells of a golden bug that in the spring gnawed its way out of a table after being entombed in the wood for many years.


 
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Posted by on May 22, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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The legend of Lee and his wives . . .

The legend of Lathan:

Internet research reveals that the proper name Lathan is pronounced to rhyme with Nathan, but apparently the folks in Alabama ‘way back in the past century didn’t know that. I don’t know how he spelled his name, whether Lathan or Lethan or perhaps Leethan, but everyone knew him as Lee. Then, as now, Alabamians have their own set of rules on pronunciation of the English language, and for that matter, rules for all other languages. Click here to read about names.

Lee was my first cousin, the elder of two boys born to one of my mother’s sisters. Lee’s younger brother was indirectly responsible for their father’s death from an accident involving a farm tractor. I will cover that in a future posting, so stay tuned.

Lee’s mother, my Aunt Ellie, figured prominently in my pre-teenage years. It was to her home that I and my youngest sister, a lass just eighteen months older than I, were shipped annually for our summer vacation. I know now that it was to provide some relief for our mother and two older sisters. Our banishment to Alabama for several weeks each summer was their summer vacation, relieved of the need to look after us.

I won’t speak for my sister because she’s not around to defend herself, but I must admit that I needed around-the-clock supervision. I was inexorably drawn to water in all its locations, whether pond, lake, creek, river, swimming pool, mud puddle or sewage ditch—yes, sewage ditch. Because of water’s attraction I had great difficulty staying home, a trait—call it a fault—that will be the subject of a future posting—stay tuned.

Aunt Ellie lived with her husband and children some five miles south of Vernon, a small town in west central Alabama that served as the seat of Lamar County. Vernon was only thirty miles east of Columbus, Mississippi, just across the state line—the towns were connected by a two-lane graveled road, the negotiation of which was an adventure in itself.

I’ll discuss that road in a future posting—I promise! Just as a teaser, I’ll say that my uncle, one of my mother’s brothers, drove an interstate bus for a company called Missala Stages—get it? Miss for Mississippi and ala for Alabama? Missala looks and sounds like something from Hebrew history, right? Right!

That uncle’s lofty profession was at the top of my wish list of what I wanted to be when I grew up. Another of my uncles was a city policeman in Columbus, Mississippi. His was the second profession on my wish list. I never realized my first dream. The closest I ever came was owning and driving a full-size customized van, a vehicle that I still own and drive around the block frequently to keep the battery charged. I did, however, fulfill my second wish—I became a federal law enforcement officer in a second career following retirement from military service.

And now back to my cousin—Lee was married five times, I believe. I may be off one or more—that’s one time less than five and one or more than five. There may well have been others of which I have no knowledge. Two of those marriages are indelibly fixed in my memories of my cousin Lathan.

His third, or perhaps his fourth bride was a 16-year old girl that his younger brother, a youth not much older than she, had managed to impregnate. The brothers were in the state of Washington at the time—many of my Alabama relatives migrated to that state each year seeking employment among the many apple orchards.

I don’t know whether Washington state law at the time prohibited coitus between minor girls and not-much-older boys, but it really made no difference in this instance. The girl’s father was not seeking legal retribution for his daughter’s deflowering—this was the proverbial shotgun-toting father demanding that the boy marry his daughter, and as might be surmised, the boy was in a state of panic. It was my understanding that the girl was willing—nay, eager—to comply with her father’s wishes.

Lee soothed the emotions of the father and his daughter, and skirted serious damage to his younger brother by saying something on the order of, “Hey, baby brother, don’t worry about it. I’ll marry her for you—I’m used to it and besides, she’s kinda cute.”

And so it came to pass—Lee and the girl were married quickly and remained married for a long while, at least as long as any of Lee’s previous marriages. I have no knowledge of the whereabouts and health of the bride, the baby or the father, but the brothers are long gone from this realm and the others probably are also—that shotgun marriage was consummated far back in the past century.

Lee had another quaint habit. He was known to cross over the hollow behind his home to visit the home of an ex-girlfriend, one then married to the man that owned the home. Lee’s visits were naturally made during the husband’s absence. And here Lee’s acuity in all things daring is demonstrated. He always told his mother where he was going—he did not feel it necessary to tell her why he was going and what he planned to do when he got there. His mother knew that he had learned that the husband was away from home and the wife was there alone, and she knew that the husband was subject to return later, perhaps while her son was still there and perhaps still involved in certain activities.

At this point one must suspend disbelief. Lee’s mother—my aunt—stood watch on the highway for the husband’s return, and if Lee had not returned by that time she would give a warning holler across the hollow to prevent Lee from being caught with his pants down, so to speak. Her holler was something that sounded like whooooeeeee, whooooeeee, a sound that could carry for a mile or more on a still night. I realize that some may consider this a Ripley’s Believe It or Not issue, but both my mother and my aunt—Lee’s mother—told me this story and I believe it.

Just one more story and I’ll close this posting. Lee was an irreverent prankster, and his ultimate prank was played on his last wife, a lovely lady that cleaved to her husband through thick and thin, and even stayed with him after he pulled this prank on her.

Lee’s last wife, the one he spent the most years with after marriage, was different from all the others. Lee said he married her because she needed to be cared for and there was no one else to do it. She was marred in the womb, perhaps, or could have been afflicted with polio or some other debilitating disease as a youngster. Her body was terribly misshapen, with gnarled arms and crooked legs and a prominently hunched back.

I met her only once, and the person I met was a beautiful woman, one that withstood and accepted the worst that illness, or perhaps nature, could throw at her, and she persevered. She had a pretty face, a brilliant smile and a personality loved by all that knew her. I can only think of one fault—she loved and married my cousin Lee and never faltered in her love.

And now for Lee’s joke—his wife had a specially built toilet seat, made to accommodate her physical features. One night after she had retired, Lee raised the seat, covered the toilet bowl with Saran-wrap and then lowered the seat.

The result was predictable. At some time later in the night his wife needed to empty her bladder, and did not notice the addition to the toilet—in Lee’s words, she flooded the whole bathroom.

He said that when she returned to the bedroom she straddled his chest and began beating on him with both fists. He was a big man and she was a tiny woman, so she couldn’t do much lasting damage. Before it was all over, both were laughing at the incident. Both are gone now, and may God be merciful with Lee when he pulls his shenanigans in heaven—if he made it to heaven, that is.

Everything I have told about my cousin and his wives is hearsay—however, I heard the story about the saran wrap from Lee himself. He was considerably older than I and we did not move in the same circles, but I believe the stories are true.

Lee also spent time in Walla Walla State Prison in the state of Washington on at least two occasions, both for passing bad checks. He was paroled from the first sentence, couldn’t find work and decided to commit suicide. He wrote a bad check for an old Cadillac sedan, another bad check for a garden hose and a roll of duct tape, parked under a highway bridge, taped the hose to the Cadillac’s exhaust, ran the other end through a window, taped the window, started the engine and lay down and went to sleep.

He awoke several hours later with a splitting headache, but was very much alive. He was told by the used car salesman that the tank was full of fuel, but it seems that the fuel gauge was inoperative and was stuck near the full mark. Having failed to take his own life, Lee returned home to Alabama and waited for the authorities to return him to Walla Walla for violation of parole—writing the bad checks.

Lee was eventually paroled again, and as far as I know he spent his declining years without further problems, all the while enjoying life with the most beautiful and sweetest of his many wives.

That’s my story—it consists mostly of hearsay, but I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on May 15, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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MS National Guard, Dixie Division, Korean War . . .

In the early days of 1949 I joined the Mississippi Army National Guard, not for any urge to serve my state or my country, but simply because the Guard promised to pay me ten dollars each month if I would attend training for one 8-hour day each month. I was a tenth-grade high school dropout and was at loose ends, with no parental supervision and nothing to do except shoot pool and scheme on ways of coming into some cash—any amount of cash, with very little regard as to how it could be gained. That ten dollars was a pittance, of course, but with pool games just ten cents a rack, it meant that I could lose a hundred games and pay for the racks—ten dollars traveled a lot farther in those days.

This will be a brief posting, just long enough to cover the three items in the above title. I just covered the MS National Guard part, so on to the Dixie Division and the Korean War. As for the Korean War, I have several postings relating to my unwilling participation in that fracas. Google the war and you’ll find me somewhere in the wealth of information available.

As for the Dixie Division, that organization has a long and illustrious history, with ream after ream of information available online. My connection with it is somewhat nebulous—I was involved with it only on a could have been, and probably would have been basis. The division was activated during the Korean War and segments of it were shipped off to Korea at the height of the war.

Those segments incurred tremendous losses in battle. I vividly remember reading an article in the Pacific Stars and Stripes, an article in which one of our generals in Korea made the following statement concerning the Dixie Division in reference to their casualties:

They arrived in Korea expecting to ride into battle on pneumatic tires.

That sounds rather callous, but it’s true. Had I not joined the Air Force before the war, and had I stayed in the Mississippi Army National Guard, the odds are very high that I would have arrived in Korea as a foot soldier, and you may be assured that my expectations would have included riding into battle on pneumatic tires. That’s how it was in training—we never marched—and that’s how it should have been in battles.

The odds are also very high that had I gone to Korea with the Dixie Division, the name of my mother’s youngest son—mine—would be etched on the wall of the Korean War monument on the Washington mall, just one of more than 40,000 Americans that died in an unnecessary and futile war, a war officially considered a truce but one that I consider a war lost. It could have been won, just as honorably and just as conclusively as World War II was won.

That’s my opinion—what’s yours?

I said this would be a brief posting—remember?

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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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.

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

 

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U. S. Customs vs Axl Rose, circa 1990 . . .

Prologue:

Less than six months after I retired—for length of service with no disability—from the U.S. Air Force, I was offered and I accepted employment with the U.S. Customs Service as an inspector at Progreso, Texas, then (and now) one of the more obscure ports of entry on our 2000-mile border with Mexico. I retired from that employment 26 years later—again for length of service with no disability—having served in Texas at Progreso as an inspector trainee and journeyman Customs inspector, as a supervisory Customs inspector at Roma and Brownsville, as a program officer and program manager in Washington, D. C., as a program officer at Regional Headquarters in Houston and finally as the chief supervisory Customs inspector at San Antonio’s International Airport.

I spent an eternity at Customs Headquarters in Washington, D. C. over a period of three years, the first half as an operations officer, and the second half as a national program manager. I managed to escape Customs Headquarters by requesting an in-grade transfer to Customs’ Regional Headquarters in Houston, and six months later I left Houston in the rear-view mirror—I requested and received a reduction in grade in order to replace the retiring chief inspector at San Antonio’s International Airport.

A tale of U.S. Customs vs Axl Rose, as told by me:AxlRose1

Axl Rose, one of the world’s best known hard-rock stars—then and now—returned to the United States from Mexico early in the evening on a Mexicana Airlines flight from Mexico City to San Antonio, Texas. He and his group were given the same inspection everyone else on the flight was given—well, almost the same—with the band’s reputation, their inspections may have been a bit more thorough than those of other passengers, but were without incident until Axl Rose arrived at the exit point of the inspection area.

The female Customs Aide on duty at that point was responsible for receiving individual Customs declarations and collecting duty and taxes as necessary. She asked Axl for his autograph—he obliged, then as he exited the inspection area he used numerous expletives to complain about his treatment by U.S. Customs. His complaint, directed to nobody in particular but to the world in general, was something on the order of, “Can you *&%$%@# believe that? They dump my *&%$%@# baggage and then ask for my *&%&%@# autograph!”

I followed him through the exit doors and into the public waiting area where he continued to complain loudly about his treatment for the benefit of other people, a complaint generously sprinkled with expletives. I managed to get his attention and I told him, calmly but forcefully, that just as he had his gigs to perform for his audiences, we had our own gig—to inspect persons and their baggage on their arrival in the United States from foreign countries. I told him that we worked to protect our country from harm, and also to “put food on the table and shoes on the baby’s feet.”

I explained that the Customs aide’s request for an autograph was a compliment to his “art” and to his standing in the entertainment industry, and as such he should accept it a bit more gracefully. I’m reasonably certain that it was mostly for my benefit, but Axl Rose stopped his harangue and fell silent, appeared to listen intently to my spiel, and then apologized nicely for his conduct.

I, in turn, responded nicely to the outburst of applause from the folks waiting to greet friends and family members returning from Mexico.

That’s it. That’s the story of Axl Rose vs U.S. Customs, a very brief encounter that left both of us with an indelible memory—well, at least in my case the memory is indelible. I suspect his harangue started up again when he moved out of earshot.

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

Epilogue:

Based on the following excerpt from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Axl_Rose, my chastisement of Axl had no deleterious effect on his career:

“The only original member still part of the band’s line-up, Rose still places high in numerous polls as one of hard rock’s all-time greatest frontmen, but is also infamous for his onstage antics and high-profile disputes with former bandmates and others in the entertainment business.”

And based on the retirement compensation I receive monthly as the result of combining 22 years of military service with 26 years of federal Civil Service law enforcement, I suffered no harm from having chastised William Bruce Bailey, AKA Axl Rose.

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2009 in Humor, law enforcement, Travel

 

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