Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Our family usually has at least one exciting event during our annual music camp outing in New Mexico. One year we drove through a police blockade and shakedown because of a prison break. This year the fire alarms went off at 11:00PM in the student apartments where we are camping. Most of the school faculty and many of the kids and parents are staying in the apartments.

My spouse, who can work nothing electronic, had just turned on a hair driver when the alarm sounded. We thought she had blown some sort of master fuse, but then someone started yelling for everyone to get out of the building there was a fire. People streaming down the hall said they had seen smoke at the end of the hall. We left the room with nothing but the clothes on our backs. My spouse had on her nightgown, and fortunately I was still in my regular street clothes of the day. People were wearing everything imaginable as they filed onto the lawn. All of the music teachers were carrying their instruments and most had their computers.

The police arrived very shortly but it was a full 15 minutes before an army of fire engines arrived. There were special trucks to handle toxic materials and bombs and there was even a helicopter circling overhead. It was an exciting thing for the kids and old folks alike. All of us on the lawn looked like the passengers on the deck of the Titanic before it sunk.

I kept watching for the flames and extension ladders to rescue those trapped on the top floor. After awhile, I noticed the fireman just milling around and talking. I got the courage to intrude into their conversation since they were just laughing and having a good time. They informed me that there was no fire. Someone had activated a fire extinguisher and that accounted for the smoke and also set off the alarm. They were now turning off and resetting the fire alarm system. I told the crowd and everyone seemed greatly relieved but kept on visiting. It was almost like a party.

One of the nice things about staying in these apartments is there is no TV. The family members are actually talking to each other and the experience on the lawn allowed us to meet some folks and have a nice conversation. It was sort of like the old days when people used to visit on the porch. On the lawn, I met a lady from San Angelo and we taliked about one of my favorite authors, Elmer Kelton, also from San Angelo. I talked to one of the teachers from LA about movie making. She has played in Hollywood orchestras. Another teacher styled my spouses hair. The whole experience was refreshing and I’m thinking about somehow activating the fire alarms again tonight so we can visit with the neighbors in the apartments. It’s a lot better than TV.

Monday, July 26, 2010

I once read a fantasy story about this guy who had an auto accident on a remote country road. He was stretched out on the ground, with multiple injuries, waiting for an ambulance. A large crowd of people suddenly appeared. This always seems to be the case at an accident. A large crowd of people appear to see the blood and gore. He was taken to the hospital and survived. Then the strange thing happened. Twenty years later, he had a similar accident in another part of the country on a remote country road. While waiting for the ambulance a large group of people appeared to see the accident. He recognized these folks as the same ones who were observing him twenty years before in a different part of the country. It turns out, they sere all ghost or spirits ready to escort him to the hereafter in case he died. This is the same crowd that fills the emergency room waiting areas on Saturday nights around the country.

I’m having a similar experience this week. I guess you would call it a surreal experience. It’s almost like a dream while I’m awake. We are in Albuquerque, New Mexico attending a music camp with the grandkids as we have done for the past eight years. We stay in student apartments on the campus of the University of New Mexico, and it’s a little like camping. Naturally, we have to make a trip to the local Walmart for supplies. That’s where my surreal experience occurred.

I swear, it’s the same crowd of people here in Albuquerque that I wrote about last week in Temple, Texas. The place was full of identical folks. I thought maybe they had chartered buses or some other huge vehicle to transport them to the store in New Mexico. There they all were, standing in line at the checkout stands. Their bodies were covered in tattoos with various piercings and they wore the same cartoon character clothing. The women had most of their pendulous breast exposed and buttocks the size of Goodyear blimps pulling up the rear. The men were adorned in T- shorts and baseball caps. The women were something I may have seen in the National Geographic Magazine when I was a kid. The only minor difference is the New Mexico crowd was slightly thinner that those in Texas.

The only thing I can figure is that these folks aren’t real. They have to be spirits waiting to escort me to the hereafter. I’m not sure I want to go where they came from. This may be a bad sign because none of them would fit into the image I have of an angel. All I want to do is get back to the safe haven of the porch. In the meantime, I’m staying in the apartment with a book until the camp is over. I sure hope I don’t have to go back to the store for more supplies

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Yesterday I went shopping with my spouse. The mission was to buy me a new pair of pants but it turned into a much more extensive undertaking. She is a pro at the shopping business and has the stamina of a wild dog of Africa. Even the shortest shopping excursion is like a marathon to me. I was ready to be hospitalized after a couple of hours. When we finally got to our last stop at Sam’s, I sat down to watch the people near the checkout while my spouse made several laps around the store.

The experience watching people at Sam’s is enough to fill the blog Journal for several months. Temple is not a huge city but there were long lines of folks with baskets brimming. Where do all these people come from? I didn’t know or recognize a soul. I also couldn’t figure out how we are in a recession from seeing the huge quantities of goods purchased by folks who looked like they were from the movie “Deliverance.”

I had just returned from buying my pair of pants and had to purchase a pair that required altering. I’m getting near the upper limits of the waist size that is available in most stores. I’m overweight but fortunately not in the obese category according to a dietitian I recently consulted. My leg length is out of proportion to my waist circumference. The young salesperson at Macy’s checked on her computer and said none of the stores in the state have my exact size. I guess I am an anomaly but I’m proud to be so unique.

Anyway, as I observed the specimens going through checkout at Sams I would say that over 75% fall into the obese category. My abdominal girth would be much less than the majority of those folks, including woman and some kids. If you checked their shopping basket it was apparent why. The baskets were filled with potato chips and other high calorie stuff, which must be purchased in bulk at Sam’s. The thing that puzzled me the most, after my experience buying pants, was where do these people get their clothes? Maybe there is a circus supply house close by that I don’t know about.

Anyway, I’m happy to be back on the porch. I don’t feel like eating anything for a while.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

To try and stay up with the modern world and communicate with my grandkids and friends I use the popular electronic social network, facebook. There is a box on facebook where you can write “what’s on your mind,” and this can be viewed by all of the people you have designated as a friend. I write something almost daily in this slot and it usually pertains to a birthday of some famous person or a historical event that has occurred on that day. It’s fun to research these events and birthdays and I’m happy that a few folks read it and make a comment. Other than for that, I rapidly scan the remarks on facebook to keep up with what’s going on with folks I know. It’s allowed me to stay in touch with relatives, in a way, that would have never been possible in the past. I would simply have lost contact.

I also love to sit on the porch with my spouse in the evening as the sun goes down until it gets completely dark. Our front porch lends itself to a breeze that is even made better with ceiling fans. The temperature is really fairly pleasant even in the heat of summer. We just reminisce and talk about most everything. We also enjoy conversations with others on the porch, but porch sitting and conversations are almost a thing of the past. TV, air-conditioning and a busy world have all driven everyone inside and the automobile makes it possible to escape to other more exciting sites for entertainment. A simple conversation on the porch is just not as stimulating to people today. It’s a greater thrill to watch explosions on TV or the movies.

The porch and sidewalks were the facebook of the past. The porch was the computer and communication center. Sidewalks, in small towns and neighborhoods, allowed us to stroll, with ease, to a porch nearby just as the internet, today, permits strolling from one computer to another. Somehow, facebook, iChat and texting are just not the same as face to face contact and prolonged casual conversation. I have thought of bringing my laptop to the porch where I could combine both worlds. I could sit on the porch and be on line with facebook. That’s called multi-tasking and is the norm in today’s world. That, however, would ruin the whole effect of porch sitting. Time on the porch is almost a time of reverence and worship, sort of like mediation or prayer. The tranquility of the porch would be totally disrupted with a computer or any other electronic gadget, including the iPhone.

Anyway, facebook is great but I hate to see the face to face contact of the porch be “Gone with the Wind” and take with it the tranquility of a summer evening and good conversation. . For now. I’m going to try and enjoy the best of both worlds, separately, before the porch completely vanishes into oblivion.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I am very happy that my grown children and grandchildren have been able to travel and all have even been abroad in the past couple of years. My travels have been much more limited. They tell me that it broadens you as an individual and greatly enhances your education and appreciation for what is going on in the world. Some of my friends have traveled so much they have run out of countries to see.

I’m more content to stay at home. I haven’t even had a wild weekend in Waco to see the Cameron Park Zoo or stroll along the Brazos River. As a matter of fact, I haven’t even been to the Railroad Museum in Temple or the the SPJST Museum. I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t even been to the Visitors Center in downtown Temple to go to the restroom. We recently visited the Bell County Museum and it was terrific.

When I hear stories from those who have traveled I think about a favorite uncle of mine who never traveled far from his farm in northwest Montgomery County. I believe Houston was the greatest distance he ever ventured from home. He read a lot and it turns out he was one of the most interesting people I have known. His brother was even more interesting and never even had a car during his life. If either of these brothers had attended college or traveled they may have won a Nobel Prize in something. They were that smart.

I ask my uncle one time if he had ever been to college and he said that he had attended a weekend course at A&M when he was a young man. I ask him what he had learned from that experience. He said it was one of the most enlightening times of his life because he had actually seen a baboon during that weekend at A&M. He talked a lot about that baboon and it was more entertaining than hearing about exotic trips to foreign lands. Other than for deer and other wild animals of the forest in Texas, I think the baboon was the only wild animal he had ever seen.

I have been to a lot of places in the US. After several trips to Mexico and sickness from some of those visits, I have sworn to never go south of San Antonio again. I certainly won’t go to a place where the water is unsafe to drink.

I am more of an armchair tourist. I’m content to just stay on the porch and watch the deer as I see the world through the eyes of CNN and thank God I’m safe in my chair. Even the deer are better than what I see and my books takes me to distant places where I met the most interesting people. I just got back from the Yukon with Jack London as I read a new biography of his life. I was eaten by mosquitoes in the summer and almost died trying to build a fire in winter. I then took one of many trips I have taken to Troy to help Heinrich Schliemann excavate. I attended the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots in a biography of Elizabeth I that I just finished. I did all this and walked to a room adjacent to the porch for a meal by my favorite chef of over 50 years. We dined on home grown tomatoes, black-eyed peas and cornbread. To quince the fire from the fresh hot green peppers on the peas I drank several glasses of iced tea brewed from the safe Salado water. It simple doesn’t get any better than that. My uncle was right.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

I have recently been reading about England’s Queen Elizabeth I who reigned from 1558 – 1603. She ruled during the Golden Age of England and made England a dominant power in the world after she wiped out the Spanish Armada. She was known as the Virgin Queen because she never married and did the things associated with that union. She was a brilliant leader and re-established the Anglican Church in England. England saw some other brilliant and notable folks during her time including, Shakespeare, Francis Bacon, Edmund Spenser, Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh. Elizabeth was the daughter of King Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn. Henry had six wives in an attempt to produce a male heir to the crown. His third wife was successful and gave birth to Edward. Edward was sickly and did not serve long as king, which brought Henry’s daughters Mary and then Elizabeth in line. Henry had a couple of his wives beheaded, including Elizabeth’s mother Anne Boleyn. Elizabeth had her cousin Mary Queen of Scots beheaded.

Beheading was very much in fashion during the time of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Elizabeth’s mother Anne Boleyn was very accommodating during her execution. She tied her hair up to properly expose her neck and provide a good target. She requested that the act be done with a sword rather than an ax because it would be a much cleaner job. The French used the guillotine, which was even more effective.

We have become a lot more effective in killing each other. Our techniques for execution have greatly improved through the years. Stoning was one of the first methods used to rid us of unwanted people who had sinned, voted the wrong way and other such crimes. Beheading became popular during medieval times and this method is still employed by backward cultures of today such as the Taliban. Hanging was the next popular method and was used for years. They hung people for the slightest infraction of the law in the old west. It seemed to be a great sport and source of entertainment during that period of American history. The gun introduced us to the firing squad and electricity to the electric chair. The gas chamber became popular after cyanide became available and was used so effectively by the Nazis in their prison camps during the holocaust. Now, because we are interested in preserving human dignity and minimizing pain and suffering we are using lethal injection. Sometimes this is even botched and we are continuing to look for better ways of disposal for the criminals and innocent who had a bad lawyer.

Anyway, it’s a lot of fun reading about Elizabeth I and Henry VIII. It makes me thankful to be on the porch, but the reading gives me a chill and I tend to pull my shirt up around my neck for a little protection.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Most of the news continues to be bad. Oil continues to gush in the Gulf of Mexico, the stock market continues to drop, unemployment remains high and the war in Afghanistan is not going well. One bit of amusing news occurred this weekend at the annual hot dog eating contest at Coney Island.

This year’s winner of the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island was Joey “Jaws” Chestnut of San Jose California. This was his fourth year to be champ and he did it by downing 54 hotdogs in 10 minutes. He won the cherished Mustard Belt for his effort. Japan had been the champ for several years in a row and the belt was proudly displayed in Japan. The contest was disrupted this year by a former Japanese champ, Takenu Kobayahi. There was some dispute regarding Takenu’s contract and he also missed the weigh in. While the contest was going on the former champ went on the stage and disrupted the event. Police had to subdue him. He was handcuffed and arrested.

Joey “Jaws” Chestnut still won and the Mustard Belt remains in the US for another year. He is our hero and is the bright spot in the news for the weekend. Jaws is pictured above and surprisingly doesn’t look all that big. I had trouble getting one hot dog down on the 4th and I am already overweight. It’s just not fair.

Anyway, the whole event at Coney Island was a welcome relief from all the other bad news I hear on the porch. It was so amusing I didn’t even mind the deer playing in the backyard.