Saturday, October 19, 2013

Political Correctness and Foster Brooks

FosterBrooks1.jpgFirst, let me apologize!  It's been nearly three weeks since I've posted.

Here we go.

I love humor.  I am sometimes healed by it.

I understand things about political correctness, and not all of them are good.

When I grew up in the late fifties and sixties and high school into the seventies, we had a different term for it.  We called it manners.  We listened to Emily Post, Amy Vanderbilt, and Judith Martin (Miss Manners) on how to behave with our fellow humans, because according to them, manners is what keeps the human race from barbarism, from the fate left to us as described by one of the great novels in the English Language Lord of the Flies.

I, too, believe that William Golding had it right while still believing that Political Correctness (PC) can take things over the edge and has.

Manners tempers that edge to my mind.

What manners allowed for, that PC does not, is the ability to laugh at ourselves and our own foibles.  Humor.  Sometimes to laugh is to look inside and really see.  And things that we laughed at back in the day, folks would chastise us for laughing at now.

I'll offer a modest example.

Foster Brooks.

Do you know him?  If you're my age in the US, you probably do.  If not, let me give you a little bit on Foster Brooks, known in his heyday ad "The Loveable Lush."

His act was that of a drunk.

He hit the big time a number of years after he took his last drink, being well into his 50's.  During his act, he was stone cold sober, yet he forced us all to look inside, with amazing humor ... and insight.  I've met a couple of folks who said they understood their own alcoholism from watching the act of Foster Brooks.

Humor, to my mind, can do so much more than make us laugh.  It can make us look hard at ourselves and see the demons within without feeling like a cyclops in the world of two-eyed people.

What I love about manners, and hate about political correctness, is that the former allows for humor, the latter does now.  Check out this bit from the old Dean Martin Roast of Don Rickles, featuring the late, great Foster Brooks.

I know it's hard to watch with alcoholism being such a problem in the world, but do we solve it by taking away the humor?

It's just a question.  I am looking for guidance.

Please comment and let me know what you think, regardless of what thoughts you may have.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

My Sister's Birthday

I originally posted this during the A-Z blog challenge.  Since today, September 25, would have been my sister's 52nd birthday, I think it's a good thing to repost.

I was born September 23.  My sister came into the world four years and 2 days later.  On the one hand, she became the best birthday present I ever had.  On the other...?

Birthdays became a "shared" event, but I never believed that.  My parents themed them for girls, Candy Land, Barbie, Mary Poppins.

I enjoyed the movie "Mary Poppins," but it just wasn't for the guys.  I complained.

"What about Michael Banks?" Mom asked.  "Burt?  Mr. Banks?  There's plenty of boys in there."

That may have been true about the movie, but not the cake, not to mention that none of my friends would come.  So I had to share a birthday cake with my sister showing Mary Poppins, umbrella over her head, flying over the rooftops of London, and the Bird Woman sitting on the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral.

The party consisted of me, my mother, my sister, and 9 of Deborah's friends.  My father stayed ten minutes then retreated into the house to watch television.

In high school, my activities on the debate team prevented me from celebrating birthdays with my family.  Oh, they sang Happy Birthday, true enough, and bought me a special cupcake with three candles.

No party.  No celebration.  No get together with friends.

I learned to mask the disappointment until I could stroll past.

Fast forward to my twenty-second birthday.  I had my own job. My own place.

Since it fell square on a Sunday (my only weekend day off work), I hoped my girlfriend would forgo her weekly visit to her grandmother with her parents and sisters, to be with me for lunch or dinner.

She couldn't.

"Well, I see y'all before Mass and we can have breakfast."

She threw her hand over her mouth.  "I'm sorry.  We're taking my grandmother out to breakfast and to Mass."

"On my birthday?"

No sale.  "I'm so sorry, Rocky.  We'll celebrate another time."

"Oh, Rocky," my mother said when I wondered if I could spend some time with her and my sister.  "I forgot yours fell on a Sunday this year. Deborah and I are going to Jefferson for the weekend.  We're celebrating hers next week.  Let's do something for you, too.  Invite Angie and her family over."

"That's not going to happen," I said, rather petulantly I'm afraid.  "They'll be at her grandmother's.  I understand family, but damn!"

"I'm sure she feels bad about it," Mom said.

I woke that Sunday so full of self-pity that it leaked out of my pours.

My roommate Greg helped.  "Chief, let's go to Mass, have a nice brunch ... my treat ... go to the movies ... my treat ... and head over to your Mom's."

"She won't be there."

He patted me on the shoulder, "I know, but we should make sure the dog's okay, right?"

I suppose.

I had a grand time in spite of myself thanks to Greg.

I offered one last wistful sigh before pulling out my key.

Mom opened the door.  "Rocky!  Greg!  What a wonderful surprise. Come on in.  Deborah's gone, but I made some tea.  Let's go to the patio."

Sure, whatever.


Everyone was there.  Deborah and my brother, my girlfriend her parents and sisters.  Damn was I surprised.

And oh, so happy.

We played pin-the-tail-on-the donkey.  We danced.  We had chocolate cake.

At the end Deborah came up to me.  "It's about time, don't you think?"

She'd made it happen.  Arranged the whole thing with Angie and her parents, and Greg of course.

I didn't have a clue.

After my forty-ninth birthday in 2006, my sister called my friend Jill wanting to set up a surprise birthday for me for my fiftieth.  Deborah died December 19, 2006.

But Jill, with my supplying information on who to invite, made sure that my sister's desire to give me a great fiftieth birthday happened.

She did a helluva job, too.

And despite what folks may think, Deborah was there as well.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Unexpected Perfect Line

Sometimes a mere few words can topple mountains of tension.

I worked at a fast food restaurant in the late 1970’s as the night shift manager.  At the end of our incarceration at 3:00AM one crisp Fall evening, one of our workers -- I’ll call him Jack -- wanted to know if I and the other two workers -- I’ll call them Nick and Karen -- wanted to ride with him in his cargo van, spinning doughnuts in a field about two miles down the road.

“Sure,” I said.

The other two readily agreed.

Jack’s van was, to put it mildly, bare bones.  The floor and sides of the back area consisted of nothing but metal, the only other rear passenger being a loaded toolbox looking to weigh forty pounds or so.

“Are you sure this thing is capable of doughnuts?”  Nick asked.  “Seems a little top heavy to me.”

“Just sit back there and relax,” Jack said, pushing the air down with his right hand before making sure that Karen was properly secure in the only passenger seat.  “I know what I’m doing.  Don’t be a wuss.”

“And you’re done this before?”  I asked.

“Well … not in this,” Jack admitted, “but it’s going to be far out cool.”

Mmmm hmmm.

To show us the van’s raw power, Jack peeled out of the parking lot and gunned the thing until we had passed 80 miles per hour … in a 30 MPH zone.  At the time, I feared being pulled over and hauled into jail for reckless driving.

No such luck.
Jack turned into the empty field and stopped about fifty yards in, as though waiting at the starting line, his face locked into an attitude of determination.  With the van in neutral, he revved the engine until it hummed those notes that send auto aficionados into the heavens.

I took deep breath after deep breath trying to slow my heart and steady my nerves.  I didn’t like being sitting on cold, hard metal, my back against cold, hard metal, looking up and seeing nothing but cold, hard metal.

Had Karen not been there I would have told Jack that I wished them well, but I was exiting from the back, and would promise to wave and play “Aloha Oi” on the steel guitar.

I didn’t want to seem less than manly in front of Karen.

Jack back off, then put it in “Drive.”

With his left foot hard on the brake and his right hard on the accelerator, he bounced up and down in his seat like a stallion about to rear up.  The back tires spun madly and spewed clouds of dust and dirt behind us.

“Hold onto your butts!” Jack yelled, then removed his left foot from the petal, tossing us into the bosom of the Goddess Fortuna.

The sounds of flying gravel and dirt gave way to those of Karen’s squeals, and … had Nick squealed, too?  One of those horrifying and hilarious man-screams?

I couldn’t tell because the force of our takeoff threw me to the back of the van.

I’d just righted myself when Jack yelled out.  “I’m cutting the wheel at 70.”

Ten seconds later, he turned hard to the left.

The idea had been to create circles of dust as the back end spun around and around, tires churning the grass and dirt, putting us in the middle of a dust cloud

Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men…

Not even Robert Burns could have foreseen my face rapidly approaching the opposite panel, crashing into it before I started rolling and flying around like a towel in a dryer, the hard pounding sounds of metal pounding into metal nearly deafening.

I couldn’t count the number of times the van rolled, but thinking back I would say at least two and a quarter complete turns (maybe three and a quarter) as we came to rest on the vehicle’s right side, the passenger side.

I took a moment to shake off the cobwebs and return to the world of real things.  A drop of something fell into my eye, and a swipe of my hand, an inhale of a bitter coppery aroma, and a peek in the light of the harvest moon confirmed it to be my blood.

I moved my hands, arms, legs, and feet, and miraculously felt little pain, most of that residing in my face and left shoulder.

I looked over to Nick, who had been looking at me, both of us glancing down at the forty-pound toolbox that had miraculously missed us both, then back to each other.  Nick’s face expressed what I felt … that damn box could have killed one or both of us.

Thank you, Goddess Fortuna!

I looked to the front seat.  Jack just shook his head, then smoothed back his greasy, macho-dripping hair.

Karen fiddled with her seat belt.

I breathed a sigh of relief, and started to say something.

Karen beat me to it.  “Thank God I pee’d before we left.”

Thursday, September 12, 2013

To Smile. To Really Smile

I don’t suppose I’ve really smiled since 2009 or so.  Or so the photos of me over time indicate.  I’m not going by last week’s Alfred Hitchcock photo.  No, when Phillip took that, I was focused on my stories.

No.  In fact, I thought I looked fine for an aging, fat, bald guy. 

Here’s one, I’m third from the right …

I’m smiling.  It’s a decent smile, but something’s missing.

Compare it to this one taken in 2008…


… and this one of me and my great friends Brent and Michelle taken in 2007.  I’m the one in the beard.

Big difference, don’t you think?

What could cause such a difference over time?

A couple of things, I think.  The minor, easily fixable one was my teeth.  For a long time after those pictures were taken, I was frightened to go to the dentist, because on a simple teeth cleaning …?  Well, let’s just say that it was the first time I’d suspected a dental hygienist of being trained at Guantanamo Bay.  Consequently, my teeth became so stained by tea and red wine that my own medical doctor thought they were rotting.  He believed it until I insisted he examine them a little closer.

He concurred.

Regardless, that he thought ... what he thought ... in the first place humiliated me.

That very day I sought out another dentist/hygienist combination, and have been quite happy with them both, fillings, crown, deep cleaning, and the blessedly gentle routine cleaning included.

It’s been six months now.

So, with clean teeth I looked in the mirror and tried to smile like I did in the above pictures.  I couldn’t make it happen naturally, try though I would.

So I stepped away from the mirror and looked inside.

Took awhile, but I found something lurking in the dark like a black widow spider filling me with a poison aimed not only at my manhood, but my humanity.

I walked through the corridor and found my sense of self in the midst of a horrible, agonizing death.

It showed in my face and through my eyes.  My mouth is starting to be permanently curved downward as though weighed down by something sinister and obscene.  My eyes are beginning to droop, too.

This is not mere age.

A little over a week ago, I decided that this couldn’t continue.  I wouldn’t let it continue.  I would reach down inside and give CPR to my sense of self.

You know from my last post that I recently visited my cousins in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

There, I determined to reclaim myself.  Make myself fit to walk with the rest of humanity again, beginning with my weight.

Sixty more pounds.  That’s what I have to lose.  To that end, I determined to eat healthily, exercise by swimming and walking, and eliminate wine with a couple of predetermined exceptions, until I reach my goal weight.

Today is my tenth day under that program.  I’ve lost five pounds.

The difference between this time and the hundreds of others I’ve tried this is that for the first time I have a weight-loss buddy.  I won’t say who, but we have grimly determined to support each other, and congratulate each other, and cry on each other’s shoulder, and celebrate victories, of which there will be many.

I think this will be the difference maker for me, and I hope to be the difference maker for my buddy.

You see, I’m determined to recapture those smiles of earlier days.  That they come from an older body won’t matter to me.

Only that they come.

I’ll keep everyone posted.

Thursday, September 5, 2013


A week ago I drove seven and a half hour to a city with which I have little in common. 

Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

But what I have common with it makes it one of my favorite places to visit.  My baby cousin Chandra, her husband of thirty-two years Phillip, with occasional visits from their kids Andy and Megan, 29 and 23 respectively live there, or, in Andy's case about three hours away.

We reminisced about family members no longer with us, and, except for my brother, that's everyone.

We focused mainly on our mothers (they were sisters, my mother being the eldest).  Chandra still marvels that I'm the only person she's ever known her own mother never yelled at.  It's true.  She never did.

I'm not certain why, but my guess is that she was a senior in high school when I was born, and it might have been cool to have a nephew.

In her later years, I became a confessor priest, a confidante, telling her stories of her own upbringing that she didn't know.

We reminisced about our sisters.  Hers, Ruthanne, was a dynamo.  I loved her energy, her insight and penetration.  She died twenty years ago at the age of twenty-six, leaving behind her husband and two young sons.

Mine, Deborah, would work tirelessly for any cause that wouldn't make her a dime, and make anyone laugh at anytime.  She died in 2006 at forty-five.

Chandra and I promised to always stay in touch, and we will.  I'll visit at least once a year.

I think the world of her husband Phillip, too.  Each of us is cut from a different cloth, but we've come to know a little about each other over the years.  Most important to me is that he's been good to Chandra.  He's a wonderful man.

The picture I'm posting, he too.  The one that makes me look like a young Alfred Hitchcock.  He took it in his mother's antique shop.

We ate too much.  We drank too much (I did, anyway).  But I'd do it all over again, and will.

The seven and a half hour drive back found me fighting through mighty thunderstorms, and not all of them rain.

I'm home now, and miss them already.

Here's to my cousin Chandra!  My cousin-in-law Phillip.  Andy and Megan.

I'm proud to call them my family.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

To Judge With Respect

Add caption
About fifteen years ago I served on a six person jury to determine whether a defendant was competent to stand trial.  In Texas at that time (and maybe still) only a jury could make that determination even if the prosecution and defense agreed.

The judge assured us of two things.  First, that this in no way meant that the defendant would not face the charges when he or she was deemed to be competent.  Second, that both the prosecution and defense did not believe that this particular defendant was competent and that we should breeze through this hearing like a desert wind.

A formality.

Or so the judge thought.

The prosecution produced two witnesses, one a psychiatrist.  Both stated with supreme confidence backed by years of hardboiled experience that the bricks and mortar of the building understood more about the charges against the defendant than he did.

The defense then called two witnesses of its own, both assuring us, the members of the esteemed jury, that the defendant at this point in time couldn’t understand the concept of 2 plus 2 equals 4, much less the complex myriad of charges looming against him.

The judge sent us back to the jury room to deliberate, and there the fun began.

I assumed that we would vote 6-0 that the defendant was not competent to stand trial and head on home.

Oh, that ASS-U-ME, makes one of you and one of me.

“Frankly, I don’t see how we can vote,” one of the other jurors said rather haughtily.

“Why is that?”  another juror asked.

“We haven’t even seen the defendant.  We’ve heard testimony that he’s not competent, but I, for one, am not going to vote until I’ve seen it for myself.”

I thought about this for a minute and realized that she made a good point.  How could we, in good conscience, determine whether someone was competent to stand trial without having seen him?

We’d just be taking people’s word for it.  Professionals, to be sure, but what if someone was trying to railroad the poor guy?  How about that, Rock?

“I’m with you,” I said, righteous indignation spilling out of me.

Juror #3 nodded, picked up a note pad and pen and set it in front of me.  “Then you write the note explaining that to the judge, hotshot.”

I didn’t know what qualified me to write the note when I had only agreed with the original point.

But the first vote of the day was 5-1 that I write the note.

It went something like this…

Your Honor,

With all due respect to the witnesses and to this Court, we, the jury, would like to see the defendant before rendering judgment.

Thank you.

Ten minutes later the bailiff opened the door and, scowling, herded us back to the jury box.

The judge entered, looking none-too-pleased herself, and sat down.  She took a deep breath and glared at us, then read our note into the record.

The members of the prosecution team and defense team looked as though we had stolen their holidays.

“Members of the jury,” the judge began.  “This Court understands your desire to see the defendant.  But in this particular set of circumstances I urge you to make your decision based on the EXPERT testimony of FOUR psychologists and psychiatrists who are TRAINED to diagnose these things.”

She dismissed us and the bailiff marched us back to our chamber.

“I don’t care what she says,” Juror #1 said.  “I’m not going to vote.  Period.”

“Write the judge another note, hotshot,” Juror #3 said.  “I just want out of here.”

Everyone else nodded, so I sat down to compose.

Your Honor,

We, the jury will not render a decision until we have seen the defendant for ourselves.

Respectfully yours,

The Jury

After a 5-1 vote I signed it, even though the only part that I composed was the “respectfully yours,” and I insisted on that.

After an hour, I’d decided that the judge had to be punishing us for our recalcitrance.  Three of the jurors paced the room like caged animals while Juror #3 glared at me and Juror #1.  I made a mental note to find an alternative route to the parking garage.
At the hour and a half mark, the bailiff knocked on the door and entered.

“Let’s go.”

The short walk down the hall into the courtroom seemed to stretch for miles.  My heart tried to crack my ribs with snare drum speed, and I fought to keep my breathing normal.

The courtroom had morphed from intimidating to surreal, and quite a few people had taken up residence in the gallery.

The judge entered and took her seat.

“Please bring in the defendant.”

The bailiff walked to the door at the far wall from us and opened it.


“Oh, shit, it’s wearing off!” someone yelled from the other side of the door, panic dripping from every word.

“Get the doctor!”

Ten minutes later, three officers plus the bailiff escorted a large man in a standard orange jumpsuit inside the courtroom and allowed him to collapse in one of the benches in the gallery, barely able to hold his head up.  I didn’t want to know what they gave him.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” the judge said crossing her arms, a smug look decorating her face.  “This is the defendant.”

If anything truth lived under the sun, that man was not competent to stand trial.

Fifteen minutes later, we all headed for our cars.  I don’t know about Juror #1, but my face could have boiled water for having helped cause that much trouble for the court.

Looking back though, I’m glad we demanded to see him.  Because I have no doubt that we made a right determination.  Otherwise…?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

To Kill Or Not To Kill - A Reflection on Jury Duty

I served Jury Duty today.

Before I get into this, let me first offer this disclaimer.  I believe in service to one's community, and for most here in the U.S, Jury Duty is one of the biggies and, isn't voluntary unless you're influential enough to get out of it.  I'm not.  Most of us aren't.  Our criminal justice system depends on us ordinary folks serving in judgment over our fellow humans, judging the facts of a case, criminal or civil, and, hopefully getting it right.

Hopefully getting it right.

That being said, I believe in our jury system here in the U. S.  I've seen some as good.  Many aren't.

But Jury Duty can change your views on things.  Core values, even.

Two years ago it changed my core beliefs on the Death Penalty.

I came within two jurors of serving on a Capitol Murder case, one that could possibly involve me in determining whether a man lived or died.  The crime he was charged with was egregious, to be sure, one that I would have cheerfully argued over three glasses of wine deserved death, if he was guilty.

Sitting on the witness stand being questioned by the State and the Defense for forty-five minutes ... well, I did not have the benefit of three glasses of wine at a bar, or in a friend's living room.  Or my own.

This was real.  And I found myself wanting to please the State in saying that yes there were crimes I felt rose to the level of the Death Penalty.  Premeditated murder.  Child molestation.  Serial rapist.  On the other hand, I wanted to please the Defense in saying that I would be diligent and mindful in my deliberations and would take the responsibility of a case like this into my soul before rendering a verdict and, if necessary, a sentence.

Into my soul.

I had no idea what I was saying at the time.

I spoke words.

The feelings came later.

While I waited to see if I would be sentenced to an execution committee.

From about a week before the court secretary called me to tell me that I was two away from the jury and was released, I lived in a state of panic.  Thinking about it day and night, I no longer believed that I could condemn a fellow human to death regardless of how horrible of a crime he or she committed.  And I feared what the judge and attorneys would think of me if I confessed.

And, had I been chosen, I would have told them this.

I felt weak, even after being released.

I couldn't hold my head high as a human being for a long time because after all the blustering I did over the decades, I couldn't tell my friends I'd changed my mind.

You see, that's what happens when you are 53 years old (I turn 56 next month).  By that age, you're expected to be set in your ways: to be so consistent in your views that when you're invited to a party everyone knows what's coming.

You're supposed to know the world and everyone in it by that age.

You don't make waves.

You talk about serious issues with people who agree with you, and avoid those who disagree with you because you pissed those folks off long, long ago.

How do you walk up to them, who now think you are scum, because we can't seem to accept that good people can have differing views on large issues, and say, "Hey, I'm on your side now?"

How do you do that?

I don't know.

I'm starting by telling my newer friends about my newer views, and y'all are a big part of that.

Please comment.  I'd love to know how you'd handle telling long standing friends about a change in your core values ... when you're nearly 56 years old and should know better.  :-)

They released me today.  I fist-pumped.  I dislike even the thought of sitting in judgment over people, though at times we have to.   All of us.

Next post I'll tell a story of a jury I served on that is funny now, but wasn't funny at the time.

Be well, everyone!!!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Preview of Mina Lobo's That Fatal Kiss

Check out my friend Mina's book!  It looks so amazing that I'm not sure I can wait until September!  Why September?  Why not now?  I'll be patient.


Mina Lobo has long held a passion for Greek mythology. The story of the goddess Persephone's marriage-by-kidnap to Hades, Lord of the Underworld, has particularly fascinated her, and thus came about Mina's debut novel, That Fatal Kiss. Coming September 2013, the revisionist tale features a fiery and noble heroine, a handsome and broody hero, and some heated, earth-shakin' lovin'!

Given Mina's self-professed neurotic nature, it took her and cover artist Steven Novak a few go-arounds before settling on the cover design for That Fatal Kiss. It had to be curiously compelling, slightly spooky, and yet super sexy—and so it is!

The Book:

Feared by mortals for his inexorable power, and loathed by his fellow Greek gods for the same, Hades rules the Underworld alone. A stark eternity looms before him until he discovers Persephone. Struck by the youthful goddess’ beauty, kindness, and spirit, he must have her. But Hades believes Persephone could never love him, and so he conspires with his powerful brother, Zeus, to take her by force.

Persephone too seeks a mate but her possessive mother, the goddess Demeter, frustrates her husband hunting. Then Hades abducts Persephone, tearing her away from the Upperworld she loves to reign with him in the dank depths below. Though outraged, Persephone cannot deny the desire ignited within her by the dark lord’s touch. And even as she hopes that Demeter will unearth her, Persephone aches to surrender to the heat in Hades’ immortal soul.

The Teaser:
“Enough,” Hades said, closing the distance between them. “I have taken you with your father’s consent, as custom allows. You are in my kingdom, under my rule, and if you have any care for your continued well-being, you will get into my bed. Now.” And with the removal of the pins that held together the black cloth about his waist, he stood naked before her.

The anger warming Persephone clashed with another fire that roared to life within her. She choked on a breath and turned her face from him. “Be warned; I will resist you with the full force of my being, through violent means, if necessary.”

His large, unyielding hands encircled the soft flesh of her upper arms as he said, “If you must. Though your surrender to me would prove more satisfying to us both.”

The Author:

Mina Lobo has a lot of Scorpio action going on in her natal chart, which makes for a rather sybaritic and lust-driven Sagittarian. She aims for a wildly successful future as a writer of dark and whimsical romance while dodging the slings and arrows of her outrageous teenaged son, who's buggered off to college (hence the "Lite" in her Twitter handle, below). She enjoys comedic horror and alt rock, goth, & new wave music, as well as quality Belgian chocolates.

Mina invites you to keep abreast of updates regarding That Fatal Kiss, as well as the development of any new neuroses, by stalking her at her usual haunts:

Her blog: Some Dark Romantic
On Facebook: mina.lobo.1
On the Twitter: @GothMomLite
And GothMomLite Will Tumblr For Ya as well

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Retreats and My Cat's Backside

Writers need to be around writers.  They need to be around others as well, but few understand writers like other writers.  Sometimes at work I’m treated as a likable eccentric.

“You published yet, Rock?”

“Visiting your ghost tonight?”

“Hey, get this.  Rocky’s a writer.  Ooooo.”

It’s all in good fun, but to understand the magic of putting words together to create fiction or non-fiction or poetry takes someone who does it.

This past weekend, I attended a retreat in Greenville, California, about 2 hours outside of Reno, Nevada to meet some of my online writing buddies.  We call our online group the Wayward Writers and is composed of those of us who have studied writing with Ariel Gore.

I had an amazing time.  We ate and drank and discussed writing.  We wrote.  We ate and drank and discussed the problems of society, sports, entertainment.  We read our writing to each other at the Taylorsville Tavern.  We ate and drank and solved the problems of the world.

All of us jumped the writing canyon into friendship.

I worked some on my novel, and we actually wrote to a prompt.  Mine was “Your Cat.”

I only managed a couple hundred words in … oh … fifteen or twenty minutes, but included in this are three limericks and a haiku.  They suck, true enough, but here they are.

Don't read, though if you're easily offended.  The theme concerns what my cat does with his back side.

Philosophical questions for the ages. 

When my cat has possession of my lap and wants to change positions, why must he present his ass to my face?

When my cat wants to share my king-sized bed in the middle of the night, why must he jump on me before jumping on the bed ... then present his ass to my face?

When he hides under the couch or the bed and I take kneel down to find him, why do his eyes proclaim, "My ass and your face, hoss."

After giving my cat a chase,

And running all over the place.

He hikes up his tail,

And without any fail,

Sticks his ass right into my face.

My cat don't give me no sass.

For buddies the two of us pass.

Partners forever.

With any endeavor.

My face and his tail-hiked ass.

There once of a man from Texas

Who wrote about both of the sexes.

And the ass of his cat,

And his face and all that

He needs to improve his reflexes.

A wanded feline

hikes his black and white manhood

Toward my startled face.

I have to say that his ass and my face equals a cat-ass-trophy.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Puff, the Magic Dragon

I cannot hear the song “Puff, the Magic Dragon,” or play it on the guitar without tears.

I learned “Puff the Magic Dragon” around 1970.  My father hated it thinking it was a clandestine code song among “those hippy pinko commie freaks to smoke more dope.”  In fact, it is a beautiful song of lost innocence.  Peter Yarrow, the man who wrote the song, will tell you its meaning, and does in the link below.

Around 1980, just after my father’s death, I began learning real finger-style guitar, incorporating the Travis pick, forward and backward rolls, banjo rolls then creating my own rhythmic patterns based off those.

“Learn ‘Puff, the Magic Dragon,’ my mother said.  “Just like Peter, Paul, and Mary play it.”

Took me a couple of days, listening to the album (yes, vinyl), over and over again.  I even worked on a little melody solo between verses to give it movement and variety.  Within the context of what Peter Yarrow wrote, I made it my own.

“When am I going to hear you play ‘Puff, the Magic Dragon?” she would ask.

While living under her roof, I would say, “Now, if you like.”

“I can’t right now,” she would reply, always with a wonderful reason having to do with having other things on her plate.

When I lived in Orlando, Florida, and later, LA and would visit, I offered to borrow my sister’s guitar and play it.

“Before you fly back,” she would say.  “Definitely before you fly back.”

And then when I had to leave, “Next time you come.”

The part of the song that sends me right over the edge begins, “A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys…”

Or mothers, for that matter.

She died in 2000, and never heard me play what had always been one of her favorite songs.

I wish she had, or that I had at least “practiced” in front of her.  So when I play it now, whether folks are listening or, most especially when I’m playing it alone, I cannot stop the wistful beauty of the song itself or put a stopper in my eyes.

And I think of her.

“One gray night it happened.  Jackie Paper came no more.”

These days, I don’t play it as I learned it, with the little frills and dressing.  I play it straight, as close to the way they played it as my feeble skills can manage.

And, it’s for you, Mom!

Below is a link to a wonderful version by the original artists, Peter, Paul, and Mary.  Peter explains the meaning of the song.  Watch how the make the audience part of the show.

And the picture is my autographed photo of the trio

Friday, July 12, 2013

Lessons Learned Forever

I learned many lessons from my father, some he didn't intend to teach.

Here's an example of the latter.

He's been gone now for over thirty-four years, he died June 16, 1979, but I still occasionally refer to him as His Majesty.

Here's why.

At dinner one evening, my father, after a disagreement with my mother regarding the relative roles of men and women in a marriage, stood and declared, "A man's home is his castle, and here, I am KING!"

The fact that he extended his arms out like Christ on the Cross gave the image an amazing sense of ridiculousness.

My mother raised her arms, salaamed, and cried to the heavens, "Yes, Your Majesty!"

He may have been king of the castle, but my mother wielded the crown and scepter.

She held a job, and made more money than he did.  Rare for the 1960s.

He never knew that or his male ego would have sustained a fatal blow.  At the time I thought that he might divorce her if he found out, but after decades of contemplation finally understood that he would have lowered his head in shame and been unable to look his buddies in the eye.

My mother understood this better than I did.  She had her company make out two checks.  One to present to him.  One for her to keep in a bank account only she (and I) knew about.

He then ceremoniously presented her an allowance for the week.  Fifty dollars cash money, to feed and clothe a family of five.

Her own account supplemented that with regard to clothing me, my sister and brother.

When tax time came, she drafted a 1040 form (the tax form in the US) in pencil the way my father thought it should be, then had him sign a blank one she said she would type up at the office.  There, she figured the real taxes … complete with his signature.

She would deposit the refund into her account, and present my father with the cash for the refund he expected.

As an observant child, I saw the dynamics.

Peacocks are beautiful (and my father was a good-looking, charismatic man), but being macho meant being regarded as a fool.

My mother once asked my father for $50.00 to buy a new swing set for my baby brother.  Both my sister and I had a brand new one of our own growing up, so Mark should have a new one as well.

My father refused arguing that Deborah’s still had life left in it.

The fact that my sister's swing set was pink with frills, made no impression on my father.  Even my little sister went to bat for Mark.

No sale.

My mother used her money to buy Mark one anyway, and my father hit the ceiling when he saw it.

“I’m docking you two weeks allowance for that stunt.  Not just one.  Two!  You’ll just have to make do until it’s paid for WITH INTEREST.”

One hundred percent interest?  Really?

Mom enlisted my assistance and, while my father napped, we hid every scrap of food in the place in my closet, giving away the perishables to our neighbors who were then unemployed and close to being evicted.

The next day my father came home from work.  “What’s for supper?”

My mother, having just come home from work herself, said.  “Nothing, Roy.  There’s nothing for me to fix.”


“I don’t have an allowance to buy anything with.”

“That’s a bunch of damn hogwash,” he said.

He opened the pantry.  Nothing.  He opened the refrigerator.  Nothing.  He stormed the rest of the kitchen.  Nothing.

Mom smiled and shrugged.  “See?”

Her grin was quite wicked.

Still, he walked up to her and stuck his finger in her face.  “Oh, no.  You’re not getting away with this.  You’re not getting your allowance, and that’s final.”

She held out her hands.  “The kids have to eat.”

“Get them ready.  We’re going out.”

For seven straight nights Daddy took us out to eat.  Nice restaurants, too.  Burgers, Tex-Mex, steak, seafood.

We all had a wonderful time, and I began a lifelong love affair with scallops; fried, grilled, baked, any ol' way they come.


That seventh night Mr. Miller, the man who lived across the street, walked over.  “Going out to eat again?  Did y’all win a contest?”

“No,” my father said, full of self-righteousness with a puffed out chest.  He then explained the circumstances.  “I’m teaching Janell a lesson.”

Mr. Miller laughed himself silly.  “You damn fool,” he said.  “For a whole week she hasn’t had to cook, or wash dishes, and how much has it cost you to eat out rather than just giving her the allowance and be done with it.”

My father never could look Mr. Miller in the eye again.

Nor could I accept the macho ego as a part of my life.

I'm not going to say that my male ego hasn't risen like the white whale to sink my ship from time to time.  But I've learned to laugh with the crowd when it does.

And yes, the picture is yours truly, my mother and father.

I miss them both more than I can say.