NINE: Meanwhile…I Was Still Thinkin’
WOMEN & MEN
Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves. –Albert Einstein
During the few years I was a single parent I believed I was a good father but most likely not a very good mother. It seems a mother’s nurturing is not something within the emotional capacity of most men and I wondered why this is true. Women often accuse men of being insensitive and many such accusations are difficult to defend. One day in a sudden moment of clarity I understood. If the sensitivity of men was commensurate to that of women, he could not tolerate the pain of living with her. Woman can’t have it both ways—have men be sensitive and be with them.
In the film “As Good As It Gets” Jack Nicholson’s character, Melvin Udall, is ask, “How do you write women so well?” “I think of a man and I take away reason and accountability.” The opposite gender corollary of “How do you write men so well?” could be, "I think of a woman and I take away emotion and honesty.”
Researchers have determined that over time humans so not keenly remember the extent of any suffering caused by physical pain. Were the human brain not wired in such manner, women would not have a second child...and men would not have a second marriage.
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Over the years my oft-used answer, “The Chicken came first—eggs can’t copulate,” evoked some laughs, but eventually I realized this perspective is wrong. Eggs do copulate by means of asexual reproduction, the reproduction mode that perpetuated life on Earth for almost three billion years before a “wenis” first found its way into a “wussy.”
An episode of NOVA on PBS documents the “Iceman Murder Mystery”—a story that unfolded when two hikers climbing at an elevation of about 10,500 feet in the Italian Alps, and only 100 yards from the Austrian border, discovered the head and shoulders of a human body protruding from the ice. Tests determined it was the body of a 45-year-old man who died about 5,300 years ago—a time prior to the introduction of the wheel and the existence of the Egyptian pyramids and Stonehenge. He was named Otzi, a name derived from the discovery site in the Otztal Valley Alps.
Amazingly, the body was not dehydrated, and appeared to have been freeze-dried. Indeed the mountain air and ice had transformed the corpse into a mummy with hands, feet, and even the eyeballs intact. Items found with the body included bits of leather and rope; a handmade knife with flint blade; shoes made of leather, grass and rope; a leather pouch; maple leaves used to carry hot embers to start fires; a fungus possibly used for medicinal purposes; a bow and quiver containing over a dozen arrows with razor sharp arrowheads and attached feathers to guide flight; and most surprisingly, a finely tooled copper axe. Prior to this discovery, archaeologists believed humans began smelting copper one thousand years later.
Many x-rays were taken of Otzi’s body, and scientists began their study and analysis. Ten years later a radiologist finally discovered the arrowhead buried deep inside Otzi, but the shaft of the arrow was missing. Since the Iceman’s own arrows were preserved, the shaft of the arrowhead buried deep inside him would have also been preserved had it not been removed—most likely by his murderer.
An analysis of the contents of his stomach determined that just prior to his death Otzi had eaten a full meal consisting of a type of grain and some ibex meat (a wild goat that still roams this area of the Alps). In addition, three layers of pollen were found in his throat and on the contents of the food in his stomach. The source of the earliest deposited layer was a tree that grows high in these mountains; the next layer was from a plant that grows in the valley where Otzi probably lived or had visited; and the final layer, like the first layer, was from trees high up in these mountains. This discovery meant he had been in the mountains, came down to the village, and then returned back into the mountains where he was murdered.
Tests on Otzi also revealed he suffered from Lyme disease, arthritis (probably caused by Lyme disease), and a genetic marker for heart disease. Genome testing determined he had brown eyes, and his DNA revealed he was not related to the people from the area where he was found, but to the people of Sardinia, a large island 200 miles off the west coast of Italy. Examination and testing determined he had been struck on the head just before he died—possibly by his killer finishing him off or by Otzi falling on a rock after being struck by the arrow.
Question #1: Why was Otzi murdered?
Answer: We can’t know.
Question #2: Who murdered him?
Answer: We can’t know this either.
Question #3: Why did his murderer pull the shaft of the arrow out of him?
Answer: To remove the evidence of the killer’s personalized arrow, and possibly so the killer could reuse the arrow shaft.
Question #4: Why did the killer not take the finely tooled copper axe—a highly prized tool during that time?
Answer: The killer would not want to be seen with such a special, personalized tool belonging to Otzi.
Assessment: Otzi arrived at the village with an ibex he had killed—possibly a gift. He shared the meal with the people of the village, and then left to return from wherever he came. It’s possible he angered someone in the village—maybe by flirting with, or having sex with, one of the village women. Her boyfriend, husband, brother, father or village enforcer followed Otzi into the mountains where they shot him with an arrow, possibly hit him on the head to finish him off, pulled the shaft of the fatal arrow from his body, and left the prized copper axe to avoid incrimination. And now, 5,300 years later a fuss is being made about Otzi’s mummified remains while the troublesome woman causing it all is nowhere to be found, or even considered until this writing. Little, it seems, has changed during the last 5,300 years.
Spouse to spouse: I thought I knew you, but maybe I don’t. Tell me, what are your true interests in life?
Spouse answer: Why do you want to know about so many things that have absolutely nothing to do with you?
Is it “Misery loves company” or “Misery, love’s company”?
At the Briss of his newborn son I asked the father about the meaning of this Jewish religious ceremony, but he hadn’t a clue. I offered, “If the end of my son’s penis was being cut off on the eighth day of his life, I’d require a complete explanation of the reason for such an extreme procedure.” The father called the following day with the full story, and during his account I had an epiphany regarding the nature of Jewish men. He begins life by having the end of his penis cut off, and he spends the rest of it attempting to prevent his mother and wife from cutting off his balls.
Here’s a family-inspired poem.
Aunt Chloe talks so long and hard
Her words get bruised and broken.
Her French accent misrepresents
How much Eng-lish she’s spoken.
There’s flailing arms and darting eyes
And stories with no endings,
But that will do for stories with
No middles or beginnings.
When Sophie, the only child from my second marriage, was born, my 18-year-old son Marc visited his step-mom at the hospital. With obvious consideration of the 18-year age difference between me and my second wife, Marc commented upon his departure, “On the way out I’ll stop by the nursery to see Sophie—and to pick out a wife.”
After Marc’s graduation from Rutgers University with a degree in philosophy I told him, “We both love to B.S. and now you have a license.”
Marc wrote the following regarding a college experience. “As a student at Livingston College [Rutgers University] I was required to take a certain number of courses from a wide range of studies, and to meet that requirement I enrolled in Current Moral and Social Issues. When the professor stated we’d be studying euthanasia, I noticed that the girl seated next to me wrote in her notebook, ‘Youth in Asia.’ I was confident I’d make a better grade than she would.”
We humans are first rate copy machines and as evidence I offer DNA replication. It’s a serious problem when an artist can’t find something worth copying—a condition sometimes known as “writer’s block.” Broadway lyricist Howard Dietz stated, “Composers shouldn’t think too much—it interferes with their plagiarism.” Willa Cather stated, “There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.” My son Marc stated, “Award shows should have an award for ‘Best Copy.’”
After my older daughter Natalie was married, she and her husband Barry had four dogs—Natalie’s three and Barry’s one. As a youngster she loved our two boxers—first Duchess, and then Duke. Natalie invested much time and effort caring for their four dogs and gave them all the love and attention any dog could ever want. “Natalie, you love those dogs more than you love me,” Barry observed. “That’s not true Barry. I love you all the same.”
On Father’s Day Natalie’s keen wit and quick mind gave Barry a fair warning: “Don’t forget: the more you do for me on Mother’s Day, the less you’ll have to do for me on Father’s Day.”
While I was recovering from radiation treatments Natalie called to ask how I was feeling.
“I’ve raised the price to $5,000,” I responded.
“What do you mean, Dad?”
“I’m offering $5,000 to anyone willing to shoot me and put me out of my misery.”
“Well, let me know when the price is a $100,000.”
We both laughed and Natalie said, “Dad, you know I’m kidding, don’t you?”
“Of course, I know you’re kidding.”
“Right, Dad. You know I’d do it for less than $100,000.”
SheBe was a neighbor’s dog, a gender-related name as in “she be a she.” To entertain my daughters I’d say, “If Shebe were a he, she would be a Hebe.”
Realizing that a particular behavior of mine had mimicked a behavior of my daughter Sophie, I told her, “I’m just a block off the young chip.”
As a teenager Sophie often demonstrated her adept problem-solving ability by creatively manipulating rules and boundaries. On one occasion I lamented, “Sophie, if your mind was in the wrong body it could be a dangerous thing.” She replied, “Dad, it already is.”
I divide life into three parts: love, work and play, and for a life full of richness one should love hard, work hard and play hard. Like Sophie’s cat Mooshie, domesticated cats love and play, but they no longer must do the work of hunting food. Sometimes when Sophie was overwhelmed by her work or events I’d suggest, “Be more like Mooshie.”
When Sophie was a baby I noticed when she didn’t want the food or drink being offered, she turned her head to one side—away from what was offered. If she wanted the food or drink she’d simply open her mouth, and the bodily mechanics of opening one’s mouth usually causes the head to tilt back slightly. I realized these two actions—moving the head to the side to refuse an offering and tilting the head back to accept it—were the genesis of head nods for “yes” and for “no.” Surely, scientists who study the mechanics of the human body have known this for many years and I’m only now discovering it. But had the human jaw been hinged on the vertical rather than the horizontal, our nodding “yes” would be to move one’s head from side to side, and “no” would be to move it up and down. And a vertically hinged jaw would allow food to easily fall from one’s mouth with the positive attribute of reduced obesity.
Here are words I spoke at Sophie’s Bat Mitzvah.
Each newborn child is a piece of God’s own purity, and the parents’ challenge is to sustain that purity. Like a bubble from a dream that glistens brightly with promise, this challenge was bestowed upon me at Sophie’s birth on February 28, 1984. With great excitement and enthusiasm I embraced the challenge, and given the complexity of the world and the specifics of western culture it was no trivial calling.
The defining comment most often heard from friends, teachers, and family during Sophie’s 14 years speaks to her great caring and compassion for all of Earth’s living things and the people around her, especially those less fortunate. Her concern at an early age for Dumbo and Bambi found its way forward.
We fathers know well our role. In pre-school Sophie broke her arm and as I held her en route to the doctor’s office, she cried out in pain at each slight bump in the road. Searching for words of comfort I offered, “Sophie, I wish my arm was broken, and not yours.”
Weeks later after Sophie had healed her mom suddenly cried out in pain from a severe toothache. As soon as Sophie realized the cause of the pain she compassionately opined, “Mom, I wish Dad’s tooth was hurting, not yours.”
Together with Sophie I have shared great experiences and a full gamut of emotions: joy and despair; acceptance and rejection; success and failure; and more. And so it should be that what life offers comes to us. And we must persevere through difficult times while waiting to celebrate the next serving of happiness. Carl Sandberg wrote, “When death comes, one small room can hold the big dome of the sky and the ocean looks easy to wade in." The time is now. Sophie, your time is now, and the chance for a full life of rich experiences must not be taken for granted.
As this beautiful flower, my daughter Sophie Elizabeth Reeves radiates her spirit to the world around her, I am humbled in the presence of God and all things for the good fortune of being father to this precious child, now this wondrous young woman. Or as I have stated on many occasions, "Sophie, don't forget my ten favorite words: I sure am lucky to get to be your father."
“The solution to the problem is just around the corner of an oval building.” –unknown origin
Now that the Neanderthal genome has been sequenced and the worldwide DNA study has produced adequate information, scientists have determined the genome of every human being contains between 1% and 4% Neanderthal DNA. Mindful observation has led to the conclusion that with certainty I can differentiate between those of us with only 1% and those of us with 4%.
I asked the dental hygienist for a 10% discount.
“Why should we give you a discount?”
“Before radiation treatment I had 28 teeth but now I have only 24, which is 14% fewer teeth for you to clean. I believe a discount would be fair.”
“I doubt the doctor will give you a discount.”
“Well, are you saying at some point in the future if I have only one tooth that you’ll charge full price for cleaning just one tooth?”
“We’ll just have to cross that bridge when we get to it.”
Related to my move to Winnipeg, Canada in 2000 there was a lot of Canadian government red tape to navigate even in those pre-911 days—especially the complexities related to the import of household goods. The convoluted, bureaucratic rules caused different customs officials to give varying answers to the same questions. Violating official customs’ rules, whatever they were, could cause the seizure of a truckload of personal possessions at the border, which could be held for an undetermined period of time and levied with an exorbitant import tax or penalty.
As a safeguard from this liability, I made several calls to Canadian custom officials in Winnipeg, Toronto, Vancouver, and the small border town of Emerson where my goods would cross the border. It seemed the best information came from the Emerson office, but due to differing answers to the same questions, I made copious handwritten notes of both my questions and the answers received along with notations of the date and time of my calls and the name of the customs official spoken to. Eventually, I received answers consistent enough that I could comfortably precede.
One requirement of bringing household goods into Canada from the United States was a detailed inventory that included the description and cost of each individual item, and the serial numbers of all appliances and equipment. This was an immense undertaking for the entire inventory of my household goods, which I grudgingly accomplished after many hours of diligent, detailed effort. I drove a rental truck containing basic necessities needed before the majority of goods arrived via moving company. Due to careful research I was confident I was properly complying with a rule about importing goods in the name of my wife who was a Canadian citizen. On several occasions various customs officials stated that my wife was not required to physically be present at the border when the goods entered Canada.
Upon arrival at the Emerson border crossing I entered the Canadian customs office with a copy of my detailed inventory in hand. The office was a large room where four or five custom officer workstations were positioned along a counter much like teller stations in a bank. One of three agents huddled in conversation moved to his workstation and asked for my passport and inventory. After examining both, he informed me I could not import the goods without the physical presence of the Canadian citizen listed as the importer of the goods, namely my wife. I explained that in more than one telephone conversation various Canadian customs officials had informed me that my wife’s presence was not required. A customs official who appeared to be the senior official in both uniform and demeanor exited a back office and moved near enough to hear our conversation.
“What customs office did you call?” asked the original customs official.
“The one in Winnipeg.”
“Well, you should have called this office since it’s here that your goods are making entry.”
“I called your Winnipeg office, your Toronto office and this office.”
“Who did you speak to in this office?”
“Let me find it here in my notes. Sometimes I got different answers to the same questions from various customs officers. Here it is—I spoke to Wayne.”
“Wayne just left, so he can’t help to you.” By now two other officers had moved nearer to listen just as the senior officer asked, “Did you speak to anyone else in this office?”
“I think so. Let me look at my notes. Yes, I spoke to Glen on June 25th at 3:30 in the afternoon.”
The senior officer and the other two officers all exploded with laughter while the face of the customs officer questioning me turned bright red. “Let me see your notes,” asked Glen. At that, the senior officer shook his head side to side as all three officers turned away. After reading my notes Glen explained he must have misunderstood my question during our phone conversation. Then he took my inventory to the senior officer in the back office and soon returned. “We wish everyone would do an inventory with the great detail you have done. You can bring your goods into Canada.” Goods importer 1 – Canadian bureaucracy 0.
The Canadian national health care system provides reasonable health care for all Canadian citizens, and when the Canadian dollar is weak relative to the U.S. dollar, it seems these two realities along with the problem of Canadians living in the economic shadow of the mighty American economy could be addressed by Canada becoming part of the U.S. But Canadians would find this abhorrent—as abhorrent as many French Canadians (who very much want to have their own French-Canadian country) feel about being Canadian citizens.
A merger of the United States and Canada could create the United States of Canada (the USC), and with the addition of 13 Canadian provinces the newly formed nation would consist of 63 states. The Canadian health care system would be adopted for all USC citizens (a significant improvement over the Affordable Care Act), and the economic strength of this new country would be even greater than that of the former USA. The recurring problem of a weak Canadian dollar would disappear if the USC steers clear of foreign wars and financial crises—a more likely prospect with the inclusion of Canadian voters in the political process.
While living in Canada for three years I learned that many Canadians dislike Americans, and particularly abhor some American foreign policies. But who could blame them? Canadians also loathe living in the shadow of such economic might, especially when U.S. power is unfairly exercised regarding Canadian interests. As part of the United States of Canada the anxiety and fears of many Canadians, and Americans, would diminish greatly.
But what would Americans feel and think about their new country? Americans should find it acceptable to substitute the name “Canada” for “America” since all Americans would have efficient health care insurance and an even stronger economy. And when Canadians feel as though they are being caused to “kiss the economic ass of the U.S.,” they can think USC instead of USA during each kiss. I love Canada, but this is my offering to those Canadians who don’t like America and Americans—and there are many.
Looking out the driver’s side window toward the west while driving north on Interstate 29 somewhere north of Sioux Falls, South Dakota en route to Winnipeg on Christmas Day 2002, I noticed the setting sun about to touch the horizon. A paved side road, possibly a local county road, visible from the passenger side window ran parallel to the Interstate highway as both crossed the gently rising and falling terrain. I hadn’t noticed the side road until my peripheral vision detected an object beginning to take flight—slowly rising up off the road in the same direction I was traveling.
My first thought was that an automobile was becoming airborne, but such unlikely possibility quickly morphed into the notion a small aircraft was taking flight. The solid black object gently lifted into the air at a gradual trajectory as a small aircraft would do, as my mind churned to imagine what sort of flying object it could be. After reaching an altitude of about 30 or 40 feet, the object slowly began its descent and gently touched down on the side road while continuing to move at the same rate of speed I was traveling. To my great amazement the object again gradually became airborne and then gently landed. My mind raced and raced until the mystery was finally resolved. The position of the setting sun on the left side of my car had perfectly cast the car’s shadow onto the side road on my right, which caused the shadow to appear as an object moving in the same northerly direction, and at the same exact speed at which I traveled. Seconds later, the shadow gently took flight again but this time disappeared as the topography along Interstate 29 changed.
I wonder if others have experienced a similar phenomenon since the setting or rising sun and the topography of two parallel roadways must often link in the required harmony to create make such an event. For the minute or two the illusion existed, it was a welcome, entertaining exception to the monotony of a long day’s drive up North on a beautiful Christmas Day.
In the early 1990's the enormous size of the Mexican national debt prompted a member of the Mexican government to seriously suggest the sale of Baja California to the United States as a solution to their debt crisis. They believed the United States government would assess the value of Baja as at least equal to the Mexican national debt and leap at an opportunity to purchase the Mexican peninsula.
Why not apply this concept to the U.S. national debt? The value of Washington D.C. should at least be equal to the amount of our national debt, which gives rise to the possibility of selling our great city to China, or to a consortium of nations, and thereby eliminating our troublesome financial burden.
What’s that you say? China already owns it?
For six weeks during November and December 2003 I received radiation treatment for cancer at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. For the next several months I returned for checkups, and en route to my home in Franklin, Tennessee after my checkup in June 2004, I was stopped twice for speeding—once by a state trooper, and again by a deputy sheriff.
A feeding tube was still attached to my stomach through the wall of my abdomen, and about two feet of plastic feeding tube was taped to my abdomen underneath my shirt. On each stop the law officer asked where I was going. “Returning to my home in Tennessee after a medical checkup at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston,” I replied. Both times I opened my shirt enough to clearly expose the feeding tube taped, and neither law officer was willing to issue a speeding citation to someone being treated for cancer. Their gracious humanity generated only warning tickets. Since that day I keep a piece of plastic tubing and a piece of surgical tape in my car just in case I’m stopped again.
While undergoing my radiation treatment an IBS attack landed me in the hospital facility where I was given a small red pill commonly prescribed for various psychotic disorders, although this drug can also be effective for treating IBS. This little pill sent me into a twilight zone of sorts, and it was a place with which I was completely unfamiliar. I acted a little crazy, but nothing more serious than asking a gorgeous nurse in the radiology department if she would marry me when I got well. However, it’s not simply that I asked the nurse this question, but that I, a married man, loudly blurted it out at least three times as I sat in my wheel chair in the radiation treatment waiting area along with several other patients—some also sick enough to be in wheel chairs. The beautiful object of my irrational affection was attending another patient in the treatment room that was separated from the waiting area by only a partial wall thus allowing people in both rooms to hear the sound of conversation in the other room, although not well enough for the words to be clearly distinguishable. But my blurting out, “Will you marry me,” was implicitly discerned by all.
The following day I was visited by Dr. Alvarez, a psychiatrist who stated that someone at M. D. Anderson had suggested I undergo a psychiatric evaluation. The doctor asked several questions. Speaking with a strong Hispanic accent his eyes grew larger and larger as a question progressed so by each question’s end his eyes were gigantic, and along the way his slow, overly deliberate speech eventually raised to a higher pitch than at the start of his question. After several basic psychological quires Dr. Alvarez asked, “What do you think about someone suggesting that you be interviewed this way?” I responded, “You should ask that person the same questions you’ve asked me to determine which of us is most in need of psychiatric care.” Dr. Alvarez laughed so hard his eyes almost closed. The following day Dr. Alvarez’s superior informed me their evaluation found no psychological issues requiring treatment, which may be proof these two doctors were not the experts they may claimed to be.
Sometime in the late 1970s my girlfriend and I traveled by train from Los Angeles to Flagstaff, Arizona to visit the Grand Canyon. Although I’d seen this unique landmark, she had not. We arrived in Flagstaff two or three hours before sunrise of a cold, autumn morning, and immediately drove our rental car to the South Rim just as dawn’s first flicker creased the darkness. My previous description of the grandeur of Earth’s greatest canyon had set expectations so high that my girlfriend’s disappointment was understandable when sufficient light finally revealed a not-so-grand canyon almost completely filled by thick fog as though huge pieces of fluffy, white cotton had been deposited into that glorious chasm. We stood gazing while wondering aloud how often this unusual, disappointing event occurred. Back in the car we realized if the fog didn’t lift our journey would be for naught.
When the sun had fully appeared we returned to the viewing area as welcome warmth radiated down upon the Arizona desert—warmth that within a short span of time quickly dissipated the fog as though God had staged an unveiling of His grand artistic sculpture transforming our previous chagrin into reverent awe.
The first-class flight attendant was awful. She had upset most of the passengers in the first-class cabin, especially the couple sitting just behind me. After witnessing her inexcusable behavior for nearly an hour, I posed a question to her in a voice loud enough for other passengers to hear.
“There’s a company that flies live cattle from the United States to Japan where the cattle are placed in feed lots and fed a special mixture of Japanese grains until they’re slaughtered. The meat from these cattle is the most expensive and, some say, the best tasting beef in the world.”
With puzzled look and a tone to match her previous behavior the attendant asked, “Why are you telling me this?”
“I’m wondering if your training took place on these live cattle flights.”
I was required to encounter her glaring expression of extreme disdain, while she was required to suffer the hearty laughter filling the first-class cabin.
Email to some of my conservative friends.
For some, it's difficult to know at what point life actually begins. At the very least life begins at birth—no question about it. But possibly life begins at some point in time after conception. Probably does. Or maybe life begins during sexual activity. A bit of a stretch, but some may hold this view. Taking this issue to a greater extreme, possibly life begins when a man produces healthy sperm or a woman produces healthy eggs—an even greater stretch, but the basis on which some religious tenets condemn masturbation.
In hopes of positioning my own moral behavior far away from any possibility of a sinful act, I have adopted the belief that life begins when I see an appealing woman. I think, “Hey, there’s a baby in my britches trying to be born, and I’ll not have you aborting it.”
If you give someone enough rope to hang their self, don’t give so much that before reaching the end, persons nearby are entangled or possibly strangled.
From the spring of 1980 until the spring of 1984 I lived in my hometown of Amarillo, Texas where I earned a living by managing real estate properties owned by the Durrett and Hayes families. I had lunch with members of these families several times each week, and sometimes there were afternoon poker games. Robert Durrett, Allen Durrett and Mac Hayes were overly generous in the amount they paid for management of the properties, and possibly my poker losses could be deemed a bit of reciprocated generosity. The lunch group included any of several family members: Robert and Allen Durrett, their mother Patricia, their brothers Randall and Louis, sister Junie, Robert’s wife Kathy, Allen’s wife Leisa, Mac Hayes (Robert and Allen’s uncle), Mac’s daughter Julie, and sometimes one or more Durrett children. These lunches were a ritual of sorts at which coin flips determined who paid for lunch with the loser always choosing the restaurant. Four years of having lunch with the Durrett and Hayes families created some poignant memories of warm-hearted camaraderie with people as good, decent and enjoyable as any people could ever be.
One property, the U Apartments, was located at SW 2nd Avenue and South Monroe Street in “The Flats,” the poorest African American section of the city where the Amarillo Police department required a minimum of two officers to respond to calls in that area. One day a black woman called my home threatening to kill me, and unfortunately my 15-year-old daughter Natalie answered the call. She was frightened and I attempted to calm her by explaining that upset renters who don’t call are of greater concern. Those who call are usually just venting their anger. Another call informed that due to gunfire the night before a door needed replacing—a claim that proved to be true. Eventually Robert and Allen sold this property and as the transaction was being finalized they asked, “Eddie, how would you feel if the new owner was killed while managing this property?” “I will thank you for saving my life,” I replied. In fairness to the Durrett family, the ownership of this property came to them when my father purchased it while his business activities were being financed by Robert and Allen’s father Delmar.
I wasn’t frightened when going to the U Apartments, but I was always wary and keenly alert. I didn’t go there after noontime on Fridays because that was payday for most folks, and the start of weekend alcohol consumption for many in The Flats. But trouble could happen almost any time and almost anywhere. Late one morning in “The Heights,” located about a mile north of The Flats, as I returned to my white Chevy pickup to leave, I noticed two or three guys moving toward me. Without hesitation I sped away as they gave chase and threw rocks. On another occasion a man recently released from prison was over a month past due on his rent payment, which caused an eviction notice to be served to allow the option of legally removing him from the property if no rent payment was forthcoming in the next few weeks. The ex-convict was enraged and I understood his concern regarding his wife and newborn baby. I explained he needed to pay something, at least a few dollars, in the next few days to show good faith, but he responded by threatening me with a pistol and demanding eviction proceedings be terminated. Eventually he did make a token payment but soon after vacated the property. There were many sad stories regarding the disadvantaged people living at the “U” and other low-income properties my dad had purchased as bargain investments.
In another part of town a renter offered to buy the property he was renting and the offer was accepted by Robert and Allen. Allen, a recent graduate of UT School of Law, prepared a sales contract, which I delivered for signatures of the renter and his wife. When Allen saw the contract he exclaimed, “Eddie, what is this?” The renter’s wife had printed the word “forced” in small letters just beneath her signature rendering the contract invalid for having been signed “under duress.” I returned to the house where the renter explained that his wife had been uncooperative because she was angry at him for getting a tattoo. He raised the sleeve of his t-shirt to reveal a small, red heart tattoo adorned with the name Ruth.
“Your wife doesn’t like tattoos?” I asked.
“She’s okay with tattoos. She just doesn’t like this one.”
“Her name is Sue.”
As a gift for law school graduation Allen received a “justice scales,” and while he opened other gifts family members conversed and milled about the office. On a small piece of paper I wrote “Rental profits” and on another wrote “Eddie’s commissions” and attached the latter to a heavy metal coin so that it was not visible underneath the paper note. “Allen, let’s see if this justice scale is accurate,” I quipped as I placed the two pieces of paper on each side of the scales. Of course, “Eddie’s commissions” quickly moved downward to the top of Allen’s desk clearly demonstrating that “Eddie’s commissions” far outweighed rental property profits.
On a boating and fishing trip to Lake Texhoma with Robert, Allen, their brother Louie, and their Uncle Mac, we stopped along the highway where two ladies had also stopped by a “Lake Texhoma Association” sign. They asked Mac to take their photo in front of the large sign and with the greatest attention to composing a proper photo Mac repeatedly asked the ladies to move farther and farther to their right until finally the camera clicked. Later, we learned Mac’s diligence had been directed at creating a photo of the two ladies standing in front of a sign that read, “Lake Texhoma Ass.”
My letter to Allen’s dentist.
Thanks for your recent evaluation of my teeth. I was impressed by your special perspective on dentistry, your office personnel and the many “thank you” letters from patients—people who now proudly smile for the first time ever. I know you must take great pride in what you do.
I communicated to you I am interested only in the health of my teeth and am willing to accept the imperfect aesthetics for the rest of my years. But after further consideration of your good work, herein is my reconsideration of your suggestion regarding aesthetics.
You know how it is when your wife wants to change the color of the dining room and your agreement results in the need of a fresh coat of paint in the living room. Soon after, yet more faults are revealed, which necessitates painting the kitchen, breakfast room and so on. Even the dim lighting in the hallway doesn’t avoid the painting in that location and in all connecting rooms.
The update of the interior soon extends to the exterior where painting, stone walkways, new landscaping, landscape lighting and concrete pavers for the driveway are completed. You notice a few frowns from some men in the neighborhood as their wives adopt your renovation as their own template.
If you improve the aesthetics of my teeth I’ll be required to have my nose fixed, my ears are pinned, and possibly undergo a minor facelift. Exercise class will be necessary to reduce the bulge around my middle, and I'll need to find a fashionable hair stylist to replace the inexpensive one I now use. Maybe even a bit of hair color will add just the right touch.
With my external self properly renovated, I’ll not easily leave my inner self lingering in the dark ages, so several quality-of-life workshops involving much reading and listening to self-help tutorials will be required. And, of course, I'll need a weekly visit to a shrink to ensure I don't too easily veer off into one of life's many emotional bar ditches.
The realization that such consequential logic will result in great expense, much hard work and a generous investment of time should I choose to address the aesthetics of my teeth, I’ve decided instead to simply have my wife change the paint color in our dining room.
Roy Vineyard was a friend of the Durrett and Reeves families who had a reputation of being cheap. Not cheap in a distasteful sense, but just very conservative regarding personal finances. After my father passed away, I helped Mom settle various financial issues, including the sale of Dad’s red jeep.
“Eddie, I understand you’re selling your dad’s jeep.”
“Yes we are, Roy.”
“How much are you asking?”
“Well, we’ve decided the jeep is underpriced.”
“What makes you think that?” questioned Roy.
“Your interest in buying it.”
At the end of the cafeteria line at the Amarillo Livestock Auction Café during lunch with Robert and Allen Durrett, I handed the down-home, cowgirl cashier a ten-dollar bill. While counting my change she discovered she was out of pennies.
“Don’t worry about the two pennies,” I said.
The cashier noticed a metal washer in a small bowl next to the cash register. “Wud ja take that washer for them two pennies?”
“Sure, why not?”
She reached for the washer, paused, looked at me, and then back at the washer. “Wait a minute. That washer’s worth more ‘an two cents. I’m not givin’ it to ya for them two pennies.”
And she didn’t.
“Don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched”—a wise warning about premature anticipation. But I believe you shouldn’t count your chickens until they’ve hatched and have grown to maturity; they’re butchered, packaged, sold, and shipped; and payment is received, taxes are paid, and lawsuits are adjudicated or determined to be non-existent. Then you count your chickens.
This actually happened.
Boss to assistant: “While on vacation I’ll be incommunicado.
Assistant to boss: “Where is Communicado?”
At the memorial service of a man I had not known well, I had this thought: If one more person speaks as the last three persons have done, and goes on and on regarding the grand sense of humor and innate brilliance of the deceased, then I will come to believe there has been a grave mistake, and that in reality this is my memorial service.
“Con-glom-er-ate Glorp” or “Con-glo-mer-ate Glop” (whichever you prefer) is a workplace where moving up the ladder of success is highly competitive. The struggle to win at any cost creates fear and distrust amongst co-workers. Looking down from the top of the ladder, the CEO sees nothing but a long, downward row of heads—each one attempting to connive its way to the top. The big chief knows there’s a brain in every one of those scheming skulls and realizes some are as good, or even better, than his own. This causes great stress and anxiety at the top of the corporate ladder.
When the workers down below look up toward the top of the corporate ladder, all they see are asses—nothing but asses all the way up to the top. And everyone on the corporate ladder knows what will come out of those many asses, and they know it will happen often and in great quantities, which greatly increases the difficulty of upward movement. This causes great stress and anxiety up and down the corporate ladder.
Someday, maybe there will be a more humane, civil means of earning little green tickets to ride life's merry-go-round.
If you decide not to ask for something because you fear the answer will be “no,” there are two good reasons to ignore your fear and make your request. First, your fear of “no” may not be well-founded, and secondly, within a negative response lies a hidden benefit since human nature predicts that each succeeding “no” becomes more and more emotionally difficult for the naysayer to deliver. And the more difficult it is for someone to once again say “no,” the closer you are to hearing “yes.” This is the sales person’s lament: A salesperson can hear “no” 1,000 times and “yes” just once, and the score is 1,000 to 1—but the sales person has succeeded.
As I entered the zoo with my four-year-old daughter, I noticed a woman with two children nearing the conclusion of their zoo experience for the day. While the woman and young girl lingered to appreciate a final exhibit, the pre-teenage boy leaned sideways over a zoo railing while looking skyward with arms twisted, tangled and wrapped around his head. As his body language screamed impatience and boredom he asked, “Are we done being fascinated yet?”
Cultivating friends is similar to cultivating a garden. One must plant seeds to start a garden—the equivalent of meeting people who potentially could be new friends. One must have sunlight for the garden just as one must have a sunny, positive attitude to grow friendships. One must water the garden, which is akin to meeting friends for coffee or a drink. One must nurture the garden just as one must be a good listener who is sensitive to the needs of friends. And one must fertilize the garden. Be mindful, however, that some friends need no additional fertilizer.
POTPOURROO (conjugaison des noms terminée)
On a one-mile-wide strip of land along the entire length of the U.S.-Mexico border, a series of prisons could be built to house the total U.S. prison population of 1,526, 800 at year end 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. This does not include the estimated 11.4 million admissions to local jails—people who cycle in and out of county jail systems each year serving sentences of less than one year. The private land required would be obtained by land owner buyouts and/or by trading land from the huge inventory of government-owned lands. All prison guards in America would be transferred to the border prisons to guard inmates, and the inmates would guard the land area inside the prison fences—a 1,954 square-mile area (one mile wide by 1,954 miles long). There would be three eight-hour shifts each day of at least 500,000 inmates (1/3 of 1,526,800 is 508,933) working each shift. Calculations show that each inmate on each shift would be responsible for guarding an area about 110 yards by 110 yards, which is slightly less than two American football fields. Each illegal immigrant captured alive by a prison inmate would reduce the inmate’s sentence by one month, and with about 400,000 illegal immigrants attempting to enter the U.S. via the Mexican border in 2015, of which about 50% were captured, intense competition would ensue from an overall annual ratio of nearly 4:1—prison inmates to illegal immigrants attempting to enter via our southern border. There would be no cost of prisoner transportation since the illegal immigrants are already in prison when captured.
With the creation of the border prison system all federal and state prison facilities would be closed leaving only the continued operation of some city and county jails to facilitate local arrests and border prison inmates required to attend local court appearances. Windows would replace the prison bars of the closed prisons, and some facilities would serve as job-training centers for the most chronically unemployed and as shelters and mental hospitals for the more than 600,000 homeless people in the U.S. The cost of this program would be funded by financial resources now spent to support U.S. southern border security, which as of October 2014 included more than 20,000 border patrol agents, 107 aircraft, 84 vessels, 40 mobile surveillance systems, 178 mobile video surveillance systems, 273 remote surveillance systems, 9,255 night vision goggles, and 600 thermal imaging capabilities.
Secure the border, deliver shelter and mental healthcare for the homeless, provide job training for the chronically unemployed, and offer prison inmates the opportunity to be productive—all accomplished in one simple, affordable idea.
From longtime Star-Telegram art and design critic Gaile Robinson.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“Email friends of Ft. Worth-based artist Ed Blackburn have been treated to a volley of Blackburn’s latest artwork, art generated as news happens. He is playing with the message as medium, creating artworks on the computer and then sending them to his growing list of email friends titled, ‘Not Exactly a Site.’ The day after Serena Williams won her Wimbledon title, there was a Blackburn image; the day after Pluto was photographed from the flyby, there was a Blackburn image. ‘This activity lately is in part, and perhaps essentially, a quest to find out if the Internet can really function as a MEDIUM itself for visual art,’ he said—by email.”
Ed and I first met in 1946 in Mrs. Sparks’ first-grade class—indeed, a longtime friendship. One offering from Ed’s “Not Exactly a Site” referenced “The Durango Kid,” a 1940 film starring Charles Starrett. On occasion Durango Kid movies played at the Rex Theater on West 6th in Amarillo where during the early 1950s the admission for a Saturday afternoon double feature was nine cents. Two of these movies made reference to our hometown environs—“Texas Panhandle” in 1945 and “The Kid from Amarillo” in1951. In an email Ed mentioned a similarly titled movie.
“Your movie reports set me to remembering another from that time…you recall Roy Rogers in “In Old Amarillo”? 1951 (just looked it up). When seeing it at the Rex, with great anticipation, I was very let down, and shocked that it didn’t look at all like the town [of Amarillo]. Definitely had a ways to go getting a handle on the difference between art and life. Well, still working on that.”
A true artist through and through Ed continues working on “that,” and his many creative works over the years attest to progress born of exceptional artistic gift. While reflecting on Ed’s insightful rumination regarding “the difference between art and life,” these words suddenly appeared:
Betwixt the twain
Of art, of life
The artist pains
To cast a light
All senses hued
All thoughts stacked tight
Then dancing muse
Twirls out of sight
“Razor sharp edge of critic’s knife” also emerged—most likely aimed at a second stanza just as the muse danced away.
In the DFW airport departure concourse there is a 20-foot diameter floor medallion created by Ed, and his wife Linda, for which they summoned the famous departure scene from the film “Casablanca.”
Linda & Ed Blackburn - Louise, 2005
(20-foot diameter) This circular floor medallion is located along the Departure Level Concourse.
"The two main figures and the airplane relate directly to the movie Casablanca. The three figures along with the mood of the transitional sky relate indirectly to Giorgiones painting The Tempest. The style shows the influences of film noir, German Expressionism and the comic strip artist Milton Caniff.
"There is a general tone of romantic drama in the piece, and due to the third figure and the speaking of a name, a suggestion of confrontation. The heart of the image is the composition, designed to enrich the open-ended narrative by a flow of energy through the figures, into the turbulent-edged sky, and back again. The airplane shape serves as an equilibrium to these forces.
"Regarding its relationship with people at the Airport, the medallion offers a subtle enhancement to the underlying atmosphere of adventure and romance associated with travel. It also operates as a comfort zone due to its familiar theme and style. Most important in the nature of the piece is its essential aesthetic character. This is primarily determined through disrupting the overall balance of visual parts by the illustration of the spoken word. An introduction of a time continuum, in opposition to the painting tradition of timelessness. The piece still succeeds in wholeness and timelessness but does it in an unexpected way—a tradition of modern art."
I would have more friends if I met more people who are as interesting as I think I am.
Excerpt from In a Narrow Grave: Essays on Texas, Larry McMurtry, p. 123-124.
“To pass the time I set out in search of Miss Zilla B. Elledge and her sister, two women of artistic bent who lived in the woods near Athens. For years, legend had it, they had lived in an old ex-mansion in the pines, keeping what house they kept in one room and slowly stripping the others down and burning them for firewood. A year or so earlier they had reportedly burned the last of the mansion, after which they moved into the chickenhouse. All I really knew about them was that Zilla B. had sent my friend John Graves a Christmas card with a red pepper tied to it and a note saying: ‘This is good, eat it.’”
After reading this passage from Larry McMurtry I searched for Zilla B. Elledge and found the following on the website of the Wreay Cemetery, Athens, Texas.
“Zillah Bee Elledge (b.1912 – d.1966), daughter of John Thomas Elledge and Mary Elizabeth Elledge, is buried in Row 2, Space 3 of Wreay Cemetery.
“These early settlers were primarily engaged in agriculture but some had sidelines. William Davis served as Sheriff of Henderson County for twelve years and as Tax Collector for two years. Minnie Pool Hickman was a schoolteacher and an accordion player. Cantrell Elledge was a syrup maker and owned a cattle company with his son, Rowland. David Pool made rope-bottom chairs. Zilla Elledge was an artist. Charlie Pool owned a jitney service and later had an auto repair shop. [‘Jitney’ is an archaic slang term for a nickel. In the early 1900s ‘jitney’ was the name given to a taxi or small bus passenger service that originally cost a nickel.] Most children of these families attended school at Wood's schoolhouse where church services were also held by any circuit-riding preacher who came by.
“When the call came to take up arms to defend the South during the Civil War, at least four men, William Davis, Alfred Wreay, and Cantrell and Isaac Elledge, answered the call. William Davis obtained the rank of Sergeant and lost his right arm in the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas. In the late 1860's Cantrell and Elizabeth Adams Elledge lost their first three children, who are buried at the Wreay burial site. Coffins were homemade boxes or purchased from the hardware store.
“There are four generations of Wreays and Pools. The causes of death vary. Susannah Wreay was ill over a long time as probate records show payments to Dr. Bethel for her care. Martha Davis Martin died after an arm was infected from picking berries. The arm was amputated but she had [such a] problem with phantom pain that she had the arm dug up and found there were ants biting it. It was cleaned and reburied in a metal box, but she died from blood poisoning. William A. Elledge, dying from tuberculosis, is said to have been buried alive in 1885. Nancy Elledge Minchew died in child birth along with her twin sons. Elizabeth Adams Elledge had a park bench collapse on her right leg at a political rally in Athens. The injury became infected and caused blood poisoning from which she died. Amelia Edwards Pool died of blood poisoning from a broken arm and was buried in a double funeral with Orah Elledge Quinn who died of a hemorrhage. Known deaths of the young children were caused by meningitis, measles, typhoid fever, and other childhood diseases. It is said that two Wreay children died from hydrophobia after drinking bad cow’s milk. Some people were killed in accidents while others took their own life.
“This cemetery that began as a family burial plot has been serving the family and area settlers for nearly one hundred and fifty years. A Texas Historical Commission plaque for Wreay Cemetery was placed and dedicated 26 September 2004.”
After an unsuccessful search for a particular item at Home Depot, I eventually located a sales clerk. “I could find what I’m looking for if there weren’t so many things in this store.”
With wrinkled brow the clerk paused to ponder my remark, and while scratching his head replied, “Well, you’ve stumped me on that one.”
I don’t like buses, cruise ships (buses that float) or commercial airliners (buses that fly). But I do like sport cars, speedboats, and private jets.
Not spending time just farting around is a terrible waste of perfectly good immaturity.
When asked if I liked the 1990 automobile that I owned for nine years I sometimes replied, “It drives pretty good for a $3,000,000 automobile.” The original purchase price was $28,000, but based on the repair bills I’ve calculated the cost of the eventual replacement of each and every part at the prices charged by the auto dealer’s service department will be about $3,000,000. But it drives pretty good for a $3,000,000 automobile.
Today’s important technological advances continue to serve us well. Years ago there were vinyl records, and now there are simply digital files. Videotapes were replaced by DVDs, which are now being replaced by streaming. There are digital recorders that can record many hours of television programs to be viewed at one’s convenience. But the latest new development underway is a digital recorder that can also view the recorded programs for you, thus allowing you time to engage in more worthy activities than watching television.
God gave us two ears and only one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we talk, talk, talk, talk, talk.
Researchers have determined the number of strange disappearances on any given area of the earth’s surface is directly proportional to the amount of time spent investigating the number of strange disappearances on a given area.
A zucchini is a failed cucumber.
“How about Chinese food tonight?” I asked.
“We had Chinese last night,” she replied.
“Well, over a billion Chinese don’t seem to have a problem with that.”
It takes enormous effort and determination to transform the joy and beauty of a wedding into the sadness and bleakness of a funeral, but on more than one occasion I have witnessed this phenomenon.
The only difference between “remediation” and “fixin’” is that remediation costs at least twice as much.
One benefit of having little knowledge is an uncluttered mind.
My friend Don Riley asked if I was having short-term memory problems.
“I don’t know. I can’t remember.”
Credit card mantra: I’m gonna get me some of those free airline tickets no matter what it costs.
ART: Anxiety Reduction Therapy.
The price one pays for not changing is remaining the same. The longer one remains the same, the more likely one is to become a conservative.
Love brings caring and togetherness that enriches our lives, but also brings the problems of loved ones. Sometimes there’s more love than I can possibly bear.
The morning sun cuts through the dark and pours me from sleep like blood from a wound.
I'm just trying to carve my way through the rest of life and man this knife sure is getting dull.
According to the Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary, DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is “an extremely long, double-stranded nucleic acid molecule arranged as a double helix that is the main constituent of the chromosome and that carries the genes as segments along its strands: found chiefly in the chromatin of cells and in many viruses.”
DNA carries the biological essence of human beings, but the human sociological essence is DNA of a different sort—D ‘n A (desire and ability).
True intimacy is nurtured when at appropriate times one stands emotionally, spiritually, intellectually and even physically naked before the one they love within the home of their being where all doors are unlocked and no secret rooms exist.
The toxicity in the family was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Unfortunately, no one had.
Love exists so lovers can bond, humans can propagate, families can nurture, life is worthwhile, and so death does not destroy loved ones left behind.
Written word is of critical importance because telling old stories over and over, again and again causes the fine line between exaggeration and imperfect memory to eventually disappear.
WHO KNOWS WHAT DANGER LURKS?
“Hey man, how you like to spend rest of you life dead?”—my contribution to movie catchphrases and one that proper placement in just right movie could propel it into the American Film Institute's Top 100 movie quotes, like "I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse” (#2) and "Go ahead, make my day” (#6).
When I was about four years old our family lived at 3606 South Harrison Street in Amarillo where on a vacant lot on the north side of our house I crossed paths with a snake. It coiled, and I instinctively froze. Given the position of the snake’s head a few inches above its coil and my small stature, an almost eye-to-eye confrontation was formed. There I remained, transfixed for what seemed a very long time—a judgment likely influenced by perception of time being severely warped by the fear instilled. The snake slowly and methodically moved its head from side to side—movements I observed years later in the “head slides” of belly dancers, and incorporated in pondering the old adage of snakes having power to hypnotize their prey. Finally breaking free of the spell, I ran to tell Grandmother about my frightening encounter.
I bought a new 1963 Corvette Stingray, the first sales model General Motors made available to consumers. It was solid black with black leather interior, had a removable hard top, a 327 cubic inch engine and was plenty fast. Often, as I headed north on Western Street late at night en route to our home a few miles north of Amarillo in the Rolling Hills subdivision, I would tromp the accelerator after passing over the railroad tracks just north of Tascosa Country Club. I’d fly along the isolated two-mile stretch of road to the West St. Francis Avenue intersection where I’d slow to about 80 mph, look left, and then to the right for approaching traffic. All clear was impetus to hit that accelerator again in an effort to reach 120 mph within the next mile before reaching Rolling Hills.
Coasting down to about 80 or 85 mph one night, I looked both ways for any St. Francis traffic, observed none, and then re-engaged my speed fest. Suddenly, a blinding flash of light engulfed the totality of my visual field. Believing a bolt of lightning had struck I lifted my foot from the accelerator and looked up into the night sky expecting to see thunderheads. But the night sky was clear save the bright twinkling of many stars. Looking back over my left shoulder I caught sight of a large, old truck heading west on St. Francis just passed the intersection I had just shot through. I immediately realized the blinding flash of light had been the headlights of the old truck—up close and personal—as I passed directly in front of it doing about 90 mph through that intersection.
My body trembled as I contemplated the near-catastrophic event. Slowing the Sting Ray to a very slow, cautious speed, I deliberated my close brush with certain death until arriving home at 422 Ramada Trail. That experience ended my late night flights on North Western Street, and I’ve been a more prudent driver since those two riveting “bolts of lightning” struck—one, the blinding lights of an old truck, and the other a blinding realization.
As the mob chased me they repeated yelled, “Kill him, kill him,” and at the very least they wanted to beat the living daylights out of me. I rounded the corner of a building and did a beautifully formed belly dive onto gravel with enough force to slide, and then hide, underneath a car. The mob ran passed enabling my escape with no residual damage other than a scraped chest and a vivid recall of this event whenever diving into a swimming pool.
Being robbed at knifepoint in Mexico was an indelible experience, and I’m quite certain the bandit seriously considered making use of the knife. After taking my money he stood very still, almost frozen (as did I), while making careful observation for a few seconds. Maybe he was contemplating how much fight I might offer, but whatever the case, after 20 seconds or so of intense suspense he departed. Strangely, I experienced no fear as I slipped into what seemed a primal state of suspension where all my senses were greatly heightened and time stood still.
As Bob Venable and I drank beer in a Nuevo Laredo bar a drunken young man began to hassle us. The ensuing yelling and pushing were extreme enough to cause our expulsion from the bar, and once outside on the border town’s dirt street the drunken fellow ran at me hard with exacting determination. I stepped aside and he stumbled past me and fell down. Back on his feet he saw Bob a few yards distance and ran straight at him with fists flying. Bob too, stepped aside, and again the fellow fell to the ground in his ill-fated determination to do us harm. “Here I am,” I yelled while removing my shirt for use as a matador's “muleta” on the next charge of this human bull. At the final moment I once again stepped aside while making a “pase de pecho” (chest-high pass) to the shout of "Ole" from the gathering crowd. Bob removed his shirt for a like performance to yet another crowd-pleasing, “Ole.” I’m not sure how many times our “graceful passes” were repeated, but they continued until the drunken fellow could no longer get to his feet. Maybe Ernest Hemmingway would have been amused.
While roommates at University of Texas in 1959, Ken Cone and I bought replica Colt .45 BB pistols that we used for target practice. One evening after Mike Hinton, frat brother Bob Dickson, and I finished our music performance at the Black Angus dinner club on Guadalupe Street, I dropped Mike at the Goodall Wooten dorm where he resided. Just as he exited the car, two girls in a convertible drove by waving and shouting and I followed them to a house located in what was then a residential area between the UT campus and Texas State Capitol building.
As I pulled into the driveway the girls waved and invited me inside as they entered the house. Then, with great urgency a guy ran out of the house yelling, “What the hell are you doing here?” Before I could answer, he reached through the driver’s side window, grabbed my shirt with both hands and attempted to extract me from my car through the open window. His determined attempt failed only because the top of my head had firmly lodged against the section of the car just above the driver’s window. He was a strong, stocky young man and I was feeling intense pain from the pressure he was exerting—a force that bent my neck sideways to an angle approaching 90 degrees. Then, eureka—I remembered the replica Colt .45 BB gun underneath the driver’s seat. I grabbed it, stuck it directly in the fellow’s face, and goodness gracious, holy moly bug fart, what wouldn’t I give to watch a replay of this event. He immediately released his grip on my shirt, leaped backwards an amazing distance, and cried out, “You’re not gonna shoot me are you? Please don’t shoot me!”
“I might shoot you in the leg,” I warned while pointing the BB gun a little lower.
In a flash the guy transitioned from believing he was the toughest guy in Austin to thinking he’d bought the farm—and at a very young age. As I slowly began backing out of the driveway he swiftly ran inside the house. I thought it best not to hang around just in case someone inside had a real gun.
This wasn’t the only dangerous incident involving that BB gun. In the wee hours of the morning after celebrating UT’s 19-12 win in the 1959 Texas-Oklahoma football game in Dallas, I was driving some friends to where they were staying somewhere in the boondocks of Dallas suburbs. Having lost our way, we were stopped at a pay phone calling for directions when a deputy sheriff pulled up next to us, approached the driver’s side window, and asked for my driver’s license. After resolving we were sober-enough college kids attempting to find our way he turned to leave. Suddenly, he stopped, drew his gun, and stuck it directly in my face.
“Don’t make a sudden move or you’re a dead man. Put your hands where I can see them.” I obeyed and the deputy carefully opened the driver’s side door. With his gun still menacingly pointed at me he ordered, “Exit the car very slowly.” He frisked and handcuffed me, returned to the driver’s side of my car, and from under the driver’s seat removed the replica Colt .45 BB gun.
“What the hell are you doing with this?”
“It’s a BB gun.”
“It’s a BB gun I use for target practice.”
He carefully examined the BB gun, removed the handcuffs, and had me place the BB gun in the trunk of my car. “You don’t realize how close you came to getting shot,” he claimed, although it’s more likely he was attempting to frighten a college kid into exercising more prudent behavior. “If you’d made one wrong move after I saw the handle of that gun sticking out from under your car seat, I would have shot you.” Today the “open gun carry” issue in Texas probably wouldn’t produce such an event, but from this experience I learned if someone points a loaded gun directly at you and you are not immediately filled with fear, then you simply are not paying close enough attention to the situation at hand.
In 1967 I collaborated on three songs with lyrist Bobby Weinstein, co-writer of the great songs “I Think I’m Going Out of My Head” and “Hurt So Bad.” En route one evening with my wife to visit Bobby at his Brooklyn home, we took a “local” subway that stops at every station along the way, but unfortunately disembarked at the wrong stop. Possibly, it was confusion between the “18th Avenue” and the “West 8th Street” stations on the F train, although I’m not certain.
It was not until after we had exited the train onto the station’s raised platform on a pitch-black night and the departure of the train that I realized my error. We stood there in the desolation of a deserted subway stop save two or three African Americans within view. We felt uncomfortable waiting alone in such a foreboding place for possibly fifteen minutes or more for the next train, so we walked down the platform stairway to the street below and headed toward the bright lights of a busy street about two or three blocks distance. Several small groups of people were walking along the sidewalk and street, but we were the only white people anywhere in sight.
The gathering momentum of the Civil Rights Movement during the early 1960’s led to major race riots in New Jersey and Detroit in July 1968, and in 1967 it was no longer safe for white folks to be wandering through an all-black Brooklyn neighborhood—especially at night. Afro-Americans walking in the opposite direction on the sidewalk forced us to yield to them—sometimes into the street. Some young people walking on the other side of the street in our same direction crossed over to walk close behind us to taunt by whistling, hissing and delivering profanities. Even a few small rocks were thrown and others soon gathered behind us. Instinctively, I knew not to run, but we walked briskly toward the lights of the busy street as the harassment increased and some physical contact of bumping and pushing occurred. Finally spotting a policeman on the busy street we rushed toward him. With great surprise he sternly questioned, “What the hell are you two white people doing here?”
“We’re lost. We got off at the wrong subway stop.”
“You sure did,” the cop agreed.
“We need a taxi,” I pleaded, and his reply was more frightening than what we had just experienced.
“I hope we find one before it’s too late.” Wow! His great concern shot our anxiety through the roof, but to our good fortune a cab arrived to whisk us away amid more yelling and shouting from the hostel group that had continued gathering.
In 1963 just as the TWA flight from Amarillo to Los Angeles was about to touch down, the pilot powered up. The plane carried my dad, one of his business partners and me out over the Pacific Ocean as the pilot’s announcement informed us that due to a mechanical problem excess fuel must be dumped over the ocean. On our next approach we landed on a runway lined by several fire trucks and ambulances with red lights flashing.
I had experienced a similar situation in 1961 on another TWA flight landing at London Heathrow Airport. After aborting our first landing attempt the pilot announced, “Some ‘meatball’ was on our runway so you’ll get to fly some more for the same price.”
Earlier I wrote about the Lake Tahoe landing approach of a turboprop plane during a blinding snowstorm. Twice the plane was in free fall for several seconds causing frantic screaming from some passengers and regurgitation from the lady seated across the aisle from me. I envisioned what passengers might experience when crashing into the side of a mountain after being caught in the strong downdraft of a severe thunderstorm—simply lights out, where one’s awareness yields to the simple flick of a switch replacing light with dark.
In 1973 I flew through a violent thunderstorm between Amarillo and Albuquerque with my two younger children, Marc and Natalie, who at the time were ages seven and four respectively. The extreme gyrations of the aircraft caused the wings to flap up and down to such great extent that I seriously considered the possibility the aircraft would break apart. I didn’t realize the wings of a commercial airliner could bend that much and remain intact. Passengers were frightened, including Natalie. Several times she asked, “Daddy, can’t you make the plane stop doing this?” With no hint of my own concern I calmly explained everything was okay and we’d be just fine. I listened carefully to my exaggeration in the hope of convincing myself such a positive outlook was realistic. Marc seemed completely unconcerned.
Just after takeoff on a flight from Phoenix to Los Angeles in 1971 a gigantic dust storm approached from the west. The approaching storm was visible during boarding and my query to the Captain brought his impassive reply, “I believe we’ll be able to fly over it.” Instead of a casual possibility, a comment of certainty would have provided more comfort. As we climbed westward after takeoff the storm loomed larger and larger conjuring up a giant ocean wave on Hawaii’s North Shore, although the airborne wave would be measured in thousands of feet, not tens of feet. Suddenly the aircraft soared upward with the force and sensation a giant roller coaster renders on its first drop from the highest point at the start of the ride. The long, extreme upward thrust of possibly 20 to 30 seconds was followed by another wild upward journey. It was breath taking. Although I had no facts or experience to guide me, I didn’t feel we were in real danger on this amusement park ride of all amusement park rides—and I’ve ridden some of the best. If this adventure was a 10 on a scale of 10 for thrilling rides, then the most exciting amusement park ride I’ve ever experienced is about a 3.
Air Force Captain Clop was my flight instructor at Amarillo’s Tradewind Airport in 1962. After several lessons the Captain said, “Reeves, you seem to be a little ground shy so today we’ll spend some time flying just above the fence posts.” Possibly, I was too keenly aware that crashes most often occur when an aircraft hits the ground. After a few power off and power on stalls, Captain Clop took the controls and brought us down to about 50 feet above an area of level ranch land. “When I tell you to take the controls just maintain our altitude for a while to get the feel of flying near the ground. You could land this little plane nearly anywhere on this level grassland. Okay, now take the wheel.”
Located between the two seats of the small Cessna 150 is a metal disc, the trim tab, used to set the plane in a climbing mode on take-off so the pilot isn’t required to exert much effort on the yoke to maintain a climbing position. When the desired altitude has been reached the trim tab is adjusted so that minimal pressure on the yoke is required to maintain level flight. Unknown to me, Captain Clop had adjusted the trim tab to the climbing position so I was not expecting the strong backward pressure from the yoke when he let go. My relaxed grip caused the nose of the plane to immediately soar upward steeply enough to activate the stall warning alarm causing Captain Clop to quickly grab the yoke to level our flight. His quick reaction caused the Cessna to gyrate wildly as it bounced up and down a few times, but thankfully it allowed us to avoid a disaster. A stall would have caused the plane to lose a few hundred feet of altitude and we had less than 100 to offer—a deficit causing the Cessna to slam into the ground with deadly force. As we collected ourselves the Captain calmly commented, “If we had crashed, it would’ve ruined my whole afternoon.”
On a trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in the mid-1970s I stayed at the Graza Blanca condos. Hoping to water ski, I located a Mexican local with a Chris-Craft motorboat who agreed to take me on his trip along the coast to pick up some turtle eggs. During high school and college I water skied often and even built a ski jump that I anchored on Lake Stockton (now Lake Tanglewood), a private lake just south of Amarillo. The Mexican boatman said the trip would take about an hour so I paid the fee and began skiing a short distance from the dock.
Even though the ocean was rough I enjoyed the experience, but after rocking and rolling for about 15 minutes the boatman signaled for me to drop the rope so he could pick me up. Climbing in the boat I asked, “What’s going on?” He replied, “We’re about to cross the mouth of a river. Lately, there’s been a lot of rain that’s washed trash and garbage from the riverbed into the ocean. Sharks come in looking for something to eat. You don’t wanna ski with the sharks do you?”
During my first visit to Hawaii in 1973 I spent a couple of days at the Hana Ranch on the eastern end of Maui. It was my first snorkeling experience in tropical waters—an event far beyond my expectations or that I could have imagined. My girlfriend wasn’t interested in snorkeling so going it alone I didn’t venture far from the shore. I was amazed by the countless number of fish, and their widely varied shapes and vibrant colors. It was a magical adventure.
Surfacing often to ensure the ocean current didn’t hijack the short, blue and yellow inflatable raft I’d brought along, I’d dive to a depth of about 12 feet, turn onto my back so I was looking upward, and then I would slowly turn like the hands of a clock to observe in every direction. I found myself offering one exclamation after another in reaction to the tropical underwater paradise. I don’t know the nomenclature of the many varied fish I observed that afternoon, but each dive was an amazing experience. At times I lay on top of the raft and glided along with only my head underwater to view the colorful show, and then roll off the raft for another dive.
On one dive I observed the vague shape of something far enough away that it was unidentifiable, but I could see that quite large and slowly moving toward me. My curiosity and my concerned surged as the large object appeared larger and larger, closer and closer. As it began to reveal itself I observed two fleshy, rounded appendages protruding downward from the main body of the object, which I assumed was some sort of giant, unusual fish. My mind raced to comprehend what sort of fish it could possibly be. I was mesmerized as the large menacing object continued approaching until reality finally delivered, not a monstrous sea-going life form, but instead the body of a nude woman swimming on the surface above me, and closely followed by another nude woman and two nude men. These four large “fish” swam directly overhead, and just after they swam passed I surfaced. The four nude swimmers laughed and splashed on their merry way seemingly unaware of their amazed, snorkeling audience of one.
The following day I paddled out about two hundred yards from shore on my blue and yellow raft where two to three foot waves formed in a perfect curl, and remained perfectly curled until about 30 yards from shore. These remarkable waves provided a long, awesome ride, and soon attracted the interest of local surfers whose body language and mild taunting strongly suggested the guy on the blue and yellow raft wasn’t welcome. Heeding their message, I decided to paddle to the outermost point of the opposite side of Hana Bay, a distance of about half a mile. Keeping my head down while alternating between freestyle and butterfly swim strokes, it wasn’t long before I was dangerously far from shore. About a quarter-mile away several people on the beach were vigorously waving me back toward shore. Heeding their warning I changed course, but the strong ocean current was pulling me out to sea. Like a bolt of lightning an adrenaline rush exploded to fuel my frantic stroking toward shore with all the strength and urgency I could muster.
More people gathered on the beach to witness the battle between human energy and strong ocean current. If I missed the southeastern outer point of the bay I would certainly be swept out to sea where only a boat or helicopter could save me. After about twenty minutes of exhaustive, panic-ridden effort, I came ashore about a hundred yards from the bay’s outermost point and about a half-mile from where my journey began. Had I not looked back toward the beach when I did, or had the ocean current been even stronger, I would have been swept away as signs on Hawaiian beaches now warn. I don’t know where the currents would have carried me, and in that late afternoon I’m don’t know the odds of rescue. But this and a few other events during my life sometimes cause me to wonder, “What if…?”
In Maui we stayed in a condo about a mile or two from the town of Lahaina, and each morning we rode bicycles into town for breakfast. While riding back on the last day, I perceived a motion detected only in my peripheral vision. At first it was but a slight hint, an annoyance, until realizing that a bird was flying along next to my girlfriend’s head where it was obviously attempting to land. She had long, dark hair and for some odd reason this bird seemed determined to land there.
After flying along with us for what seemed an uncomfortable 15 or 20 seconds, the bird finally did land on her head—a landing welcomed by a blood-curdling scream. The bird dug its claws into her scalp in a successful effort to maintain its precarious position, which in her hysteria caused her to lose balance and topple over on her bicycle. Even then, the bird stubbornly clung to her scalp as it wildly flapped its wings and issued loud, shrill, menacing sounds. I jumped off my bike and knocked the bird from its perch, but the crazy thing immediately returned to its newly claimed territory. I knocked it off two or three more times until the bird finally retreated to the ground nearby where with cocked head it seemed to ask, “What’s up with you?”
The unpaved road accommodated autos although few traveled it. During this unusual event a car and a station wagon appeared, and as I positioned myself between the bird and my girlfriend a lady who worked with a Maui wildlife agency exited the station wagon. She explained the type of bird, the reason for its unusual behavior, and then captured “our friend” and placed it in a cage in the back of her station wagon. We soon applied generous portions of antibiotic to the nasty scratches on an injured scalp.
At the Honolulu airport check-in line the following day, a lady standing just behind us announced, “I nearly didn’t recognize you without a bird on your head.” To our amazement she was a passenger in the car that had stopped to witness the bird-makes-nest-on-human-head event.
In the darkness of the early morning hours near the end of a 36-hour, non-stop drive from New York City to Amarillo, a large, white two-story farmhouse suddenly appeared in the middle of the highway. I slammed on the brakes to avoid a collision and stopped just short of the house. There were no other cars in sight on the two-lane highway that ran in sync with railroad tracks along the level plains of the Texas Panhandle. Both exhaustion and darkness were contributors to my perception difficulty. Is that next railroad signal light tens of yards in distance, or is it hundreds or even more? Exiting my car I was stunned to find no farmhouse located in the middle of the highway, or anywhere in sight. Some friends say this is but one of many hallucinations I’ve experienced over the years.
Late one afternoon in Amarillo as I drove north on South Georgia Street approaching the intersection of Civic Circle, the car just ahead of me in the lane to my right abruptly turned into my lane. Given the heavy rain my speed was excessive—probably 35 or 40 mph. Attempting to avoid a collision I instinctively turned sharply to the left, which caused my car to loose traction and skid across the concrete divider, across the southbound lane of Georgia Street, across the Hi-D-Ho Drive-In parking lot, and finally coming to rest only a few feet from the Hi-D-Ho building. To my incredible good fortune there was no oncoming traffic on South Georgia Street, and no cars had yet assembled in the Hi-D-Ho parking lot. Stopping short of the building was a welcome surprise, and had I crashed into the building new meaning could have been coined regarding Hi-D-Ho’s suggestion to "drive in”. I was reminded of the picture frame shop located on South Western Street at the dead-end of 34th where every year or two a driver not realizing 34th dead-ended at Western Street would continue their westbound course and crash into the picture frame shop. Eventually, the proprietors erected a sign suggesting, "That's drop in, not drive in.”
When I first learned to play guitar Bob Venable and I played a time or two for anyone who cared to listen inside the small dining area of the Hi-D-Ho. Our friends would bang in rhythm on the tables or chairs to supply a strong beat to help propel our performance to the greatest possible heights. Jimmy Gilmer witnessed one of our impromptu sessions and later told me he thought, “If Eddie Reeves can sing and play guitar anybody can.” The following day he bought a guitar and began learning to play it, which is proof that even those of us with marginal talent may provide meaningful inspiration.
In addition to the events just described, I previously described other dangerous events like when an ex-convict pointed a pistol at me, when some black guys threw rocks and chased after me, and when I dove under a car when a gang of guys chased me. It seems the difference of only a second or two can determine whether one lives or dies, and a brain cell or two may be a like determinate.
WHAT CONDITION OUR CONDITION’S IN
Here’s a quote from Democracy, a novel by Henry Adams published anonymously in 1880, which I discovered in Sacagawea’s Nickname: Essays on the American West by Larry McMurtry, who happens to be a distant relative by the second marriage of my great aunt Vera Reeves Slaven to Charlie McMurtry, oldest brother of Larry McMurtry’s father.
“A delicate mist hangs over Arlington, and softens even the harsh white glare of the Capitol; the struggle of existence seems to abate. Youthful diplomats, unconscious of their danger, are lured into asking foolish girls to marry them; the blood thaws in the heart and flows out into the veins, like the rills of sparkling water, as though all the ice and snow on Earth, all the heresy and schism, all the works of the devil, had yielded to the force of love and to the fresh warmth of innocent, lamb-like, confiding virtue. In such a world there should be no guile--but there is a great deal of it notwithstanding. This is the season when the two whited sepulchers at either end of the Avenue reek with the thick atmosphere of bargain and sale. Wealth, office, power are at auction. Who bids highest; who hates with most venom? Who intrigues with most skill? Who has done the dirtiest, the meanest, the darkest, and the most, political work? He shall have his reward.”
Here’s part of my rant in October 2009.
We live in an "instant gratification" culture where short-term thinking is king and shortsightedness too often the reward. There are loud ideological voices from both the left and the right, and a shortage of statesmen, educated voters, and tolerance. We have plenty of white men who fear their power will be usurped by minority groups. It's the same fear that drives Israeli/Jewish political ideals—a fear that Jewish identity will eventually be absorbed into the world population. This is the first year that the number of minority births in the United States is greater than the number of white births. We have a black president; a woman as Speaker of the House; more women than ever in the work place with many slowly striding toward equal compensation; and a politically active religious minority for whom many do not highly regard science, or truly believe in equal rights for all people—especially gays and the exploding Hispanic population. China's coming economic dominance may render the United States a place in world economic leadership similar to that now held by Great Britain—a former dominate power struggling with a decreasing role in world leadership and a decreasing standard of living. There is a much greater gulf than at any time since 1928 between the wealthy and the rest of the population. Our education system has been failing for years and the teachers’ unions have stubbornly blocked needed change. We have cable news outlets, especially Fox News, mindlessly bending the truth and at times broadcasting outright lies to an uneducated populace. Instead of news reporting, they are ideology supporting. Fear is rampant and such climate can bear dangerous fruit. It's a sad time and possibly a more dangerous time than most Americans realize.
There are both conservative values and liberal values I believe in, and I'm open to discussion and reason and new perspective on almost everything I believe. Consider the definition of the word bigot.
bigot (plural bigots)
one who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices.
one who is strongly partial to one's own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ.
Is America becoming a nation of bigots—a nation of ideologues “obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices”? Consider this view from Einstein: "Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity, opinions that differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions.”
“Like the man said, ‘Sometimes, you have to forget about your principles and do what’s right.’”—from The Mayor of MacDougal Street by Dave Van Ronk with Elijah Wald
NOBODY in the MIDDLE
Lena Shammas & Eddie Reeves
Friends who are conservative see me as a liberal
Hint I don’t deserve to live so completely temporal
Friends who are liberal think I'm a conservative
Soaked too long in simple Republican preservative
Hey now Bo Diddley diddle ain’t nobody left in the middle
Hey now Bo Diddley diddle ain’t nobody right in the middle
Hey, hey Bo Diddley diddle politicin’ frickin’ riddle
Where’s them people used to be in the middle?
Hey now Bo Diddley diddle tired of hearing political fiddles
Hey now Bo Diddley diddle burnt skin smell is our asses on the griddle
Hey, hey Bo Diddley diddle politicin’ frickin’ riddle
All them people don’t give a paradiddle.
Whole dang country now it seems adoptin’ dogma of extremes
Half free-loadin’ socialists, the rest God-blessed survivalists
Now we’re strung up by the balls clean up to the hilt
Building taller, thicker walls ‘round walls already built.
© 2014 Word Wrestler – BMI
One must read widely and gather much information, and which information one absorbs is crucial. But even more critical is the way information is incorporated into one’s thinking and understanding to form a worldview. To me, there's nothing worse than someone believing they have all the answers. Shouldn’t productive conversations begin with questions, not hard opinions? Questioning, exploring, being open, exchanging ideas, wondering, ever-wandering outside conventional limits and norms, running with ideas not easily embraced to stretch the boundaries of one's thinking, avoiding impulsive opinions, and being a good listener are some things that just might help foster intelligent, productive discourse toward the goal of attaining a realistic world view.
Successful people sometimes experience a reality warp from the bubble created by their success—something I’ve often observed to varying extents. Nearly everything I believe can be held up to question because I know we humans are fallible. To me, this is the basis of open-mindedness—following the search for truth wherever it leads—left, right, center, upside-down, or inside out. I'm not always successful, but finding truth is my ambition. It seems that many folks search for pieces of truth that support what they already believe to be true or what they wish were true. We have news reporters, writers, pundits, and bloggers filling the ether with ever more incessant noise being ingested by a populace lacking quality education. Maybe a new Model 2.0 bullshit detector will soon be available to help me better navigate the cacophony of depressing political clamor.
Excerpts from OECD report published June 2014.
United States Tackling High Inequalities Creating Opportunities For All, published June 2014.
Income inequality is high in the US, compared to other OECD countries. Across countries, higher levels of income inequality are associated with less social mobility, and hence lower equality of opportunities. Therefore, addressing high and rising gaps between rich and poor has gained center stage in policy debates in the US and elsewhere. Comparing living standards around the world, the average American is far richer than most. But this is not true for the poorest 10 percent of Americans. The average income of this poorest group actually fell in the US by 15%, in real terms, between 2000 and 2010, before recovering only modestly during 2011 and 2012. At the same time, top incomes rose to dizzying heights in the US, as well as in other OECD countries. The richest 1 percent of Americans now account for 20% of national pre-tax income.
The effectiveness of redistribution through income taxes and cash transfers was on a declining trend in most OECD countries since the mid-1990s and in the US during the early 2000s. Redistribution is considerably lower in the United States than in most other OECD countries, although the combined effect of higher expenditures on social transfers and lower tax burdens offset two-thirds of the fall in household income brought by the crisis between 2008 and 2010.
The most effective policy tool kit to address high inequalities and to extend opportunities is one that combines education and job training measures, policies to boost job creation, and reforms to make the tax and benefit system and public services more efficient.
The previous economic facts and statistics exemplify the “true redistribution of wealth,” and the resulting increased rate of income inequality may mean the following is no exaggeration. In 1980 the wealthiest 5% of Americans had a collective net worth of about $8 trillion and the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was $2.8 trillion. By 2002 the wealthiest 5% of Americans had a net worth of about $40 trillion and the U.S. GDP was $10.6 trillion. During these 22 years the net worth of America’s wealthiest 5% increased by 5 fold and the U.S. GDP increased by 3.8 times, which means the rate for the wealthiest 5% was 32% greater than the increase in GDP. If U.S. wealth distribution continues shifting at this rate, then by 2056 there will be bad news, some good news and more bad news.
The first bad news is that the least wealthy 95% of Americans will all be on food stamps. The good news is that the wealthiest 5% of Americans will have the financial ability to bear the cost burden of these food stamps. But the final bad news is that at the current rate of the increase of greed, the wealthiest 5% may not be willing to pay this cost.
Here’s an idea for a bumper sticker:
MILLIONS of reasonable Americans
BILLIONS of unreasonable dollars
“Money doesn’t talk, it swears.” –Bob Dylan
World statistics change from year to year and demonstrate as of 2013 that some human condition problems are successfully being addressed, while others are not. The following generalities reflect world condition for humans in 2013.
The Good News
The dramatic decline in preventable child deaths over the past quarter of a century is one of the most significant achievements in human history. The global under-five mortality rate has declined by nearly half (49 per cent) since 1990, dropping from 90 to 46 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2013. The under-five mortality is falling faster than at any other time during the past two decades. Thanks to the accelerated progress in reducing child mortality, the world saved almost 100 million children—among them, 24 million newborns—who would have died had mortality remained at 1990 rates.
In 1990, 12.7 million children under age five died. In 2013 that number fell to 6.3 million, a reduction of about 50 per cent. In other words, about 17,000 children under 5 died every day in 2013—17,000 fewer than in 1990. The global progress in reducing newborn deaths is almost as striking. Between 1990 and 2013, the number of newborn babies who died within the first 28 days of life declined from 4.7 million to 2.8 million.
The Bad News
Although the “good news” is very good news, every day around the world over 17,000 children under the age of five still die from the silent killers of poverty, hunger, easily preventable diseases and illnesses, and other related causes. Despite the scale of this continuing catastrophe, prime-time headline news coverage is rare.
This depressing death toll of 17,000 children per day is the equivalent of 32 Boeing 747 passenger planes (capacity of 524) crashing each day. Imagine world outrage if 32 jumbo jets filled with children under the age of five crashed the same day…or for two days in a row…or three days…or one week…or one month. But death of children here on Earth continues at this horrific rate of 365 days each year—year after year.
The number of children that needlessly die each day is more than five times the 2,977 deaths caused by the horrible catastrophe on September 11, 2001. Imagine, five 9/11 tragedies each day—day after day—and where all deaths are of children. Few people are aware of this perspective, and when introduced to it a common reaction is to doubt its veracity.
Bumper sticker: “I used to care, but I take a pill for that now.”
Like all of us, I could die at any moment from any one of many possible causes. As someone who chooses to believe there is a God or some omnipotent power in the universe, and as one who does not practice any formalized religion, what am I to think of what happens after death?
Having faith is to believe something metaphysical, something one cannot scientifically prove. I'm not sure I have faith there is a God, but I choose to believe God exists simply because I hope God does exist. I want to retain a connection and togetherness with my loved ones in the hereafter, and maybe there will even be a “big replay in the heavens” where one can observe the events of all times, including events of our lives.
According to David Barrett et al, editors of the “World Christian Encyclopedia: A comparative survey of churches and religions - AD 30 to 2200,” there are 19 major world religions, which are subdivided into a total of 270 large religious groups, and many smaller ones. 34,000 separate Christian groups have been identified in the world. Over half of them are independent churches that are not interested in linking with the big denominations. Many individuals and religious groups have much more strict definitions for membership. For example, many conservative Christians believe that one has to be "born again" in order to be counted as a Christian. Using this definition, only about 35% of Americans would be counted as Christians. This difference in definitions between conservative Christians and the rest of the population causes much confusion. Some of the approximately 1,000 Christian faith groups in the U.S. and Canada believe themselves to be the only true Christian denomination.
Source: Pew Research Center
The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010 – 2050
Size and Projected Growth of Major Religious Groups
% OF WORLD % OF WORLD POPULATION
POPULATION PROJECTED 2050 POPULATION GROWTH 2010-
2010 POPULATION IN 2010 POPULATION IN 2050 2050
Christians 2,168,330,000 31.4% 2,918,070,000 31.4% 749,740,000
Muslims 1,599,700,000 23.2 2,761,480,000 29.7 1,161,780,000
Unaffiliated 1,131,150,000 16.4 1,230,340,000 13.2 99,190,000
Hindus 1,032,210,000 15.0 1,384,360,000 14.9 352,140,000
Buddhists 487,760,000 7.1 486,270,000 5.2 -1,490,000
Folk Religion 404,690,000 5.9 449,140,000 4.8 44,450,000
Other Religions 58,150,000 0.8 61,450,000 0.7 3,300,000
Jews 13,860,000 0.2 16,090,000 0.2 2,230,000
World total 6,895,850,000 100.0 9,307,190,000 100.0 2,411,340,000
The projection shows that the world’s Christian population will increase by 750 million, while the world’s Muslim population will increase by 1,162 million—an increase of more than 50% greater. The world’s Christian and Muslim populations will be about equal by the year 2070.
In addition, the Pew Research Center states that Christians accounted for 78.3% of the U.S. population in 2010, and the “Unaffiliated” or “non-religious” accounted for 16.4%. Projections show that by 2050 Christians will comprise 66.4% of U.S. population and “Unaffiliated” will comprise 25.6%.
If I desired to adopt a religion shouldn't I at least study each of the four major religions—Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism—as well as consider being non-religious or atheist before making a final decision? Few people take this approach since most people are born into one religion and usually retain it throughout life. Isn't this telling us something? Don’t most of us become what we are taught to be? The convoluted human struggle to define God has resulted in “19 major world religions, which are divided into 270 large religious groups and many smaller ones including over 34,000 different Christian groups”?
Not knowing what happens after death is frightening and worrisome for most of us. Having a religion explain its version of the truth helps relieve the anxiety of the unknown and questions about the hereafter. Some call it “life in a box”—tell me the facts and the rules about morals, God and heaven so that I can go about my life and worry less, or not at all, about such things. Tough questions solved—just follow the rules no matter the extent that rules and concepts differ from one religious group to the next. So which rules are the correct rules? Could it be that each religion is correct in its own way and if so, what does it matter which belief system one adopts, or whether one adopts any formal religion at all?
Some religions claim their belief system is the only correct belief system although some religions leave room for the general validity of other religious beliefs. How can a significant portion of the Christian one-third of the world’s people believe that only they will be accepted into heaven by their acceptance of Jesus as the only means by which one can enter the kingdom of God? Do many Christians really believe the other two-thirds of all people on Earth will go to hell and burn forever? Some Christians don't hold such a belief but many do. Can one be a true Christian and not hold this belief? I cannot respect a religion that believes my friends and loved ones who do not hold an extreme conservative Christian belief will forever burn in hell. How do Christians feel regarding extreme Muslims who believe Christians are infidels who will not enjoy the heavenly hereafter, and that the killing of such infidels is acceptable? I am proud not to belong to a religion that subscribes to the arrogant doctrine of intolerance practiced by extreme Muslims, as well as extreme Christians. Instead, I am at peace being labeled “Unaffiliated” regarding religion—a group of more than one billion people and the third largest group as identified by religious beliefs. To me, much about religion is commercialized spirituality, and I'm not buying.
In surveying the religious landscape there appears to be an old God and a new God—a dark ages God and a modern God. The dogma of most religions freezes their concept of God hundreds or thousands of years in the past when the New Testament, the Old Testament, the Koran or other religious doctrine was born. The religious hierarchy maintains rigid control of the belief system letting little new thought enter even as human intelligence advances and the world changes. These “literalists” are remarkably similar to some U.S. Supreme Court Justices who have frozen the meaning of the U.S. Constitution in late 18th century thought. Consider the role of women in the church and the rejection of birth control by some religious groups as they proceed down their religious path with their belief-system hatch tightly shut. This is what I define as the concept of the old God.
In contrast, the new God changes as human intellect advances (just as some U.S. Supreme Court Justices consider modern day existence and thought). If scientific principles have proven our planet is a globe, that it revolves around the sun and that its age is 4.5 billion years, then why do some religions explicitly reject much definitive scientific knowledge? In Galileo’s time the Catholic Church in Rome rejected his support of the Copernican idea that the earth revolves around the sun, just as some religions now reject the idea that the earth has existed for 4.5 billion years. In order to believe in God, no person should be required to think in the same manner in which humans thought during the dark ages. I see no conflict between believing in God and the scientific knowledge humankind continues to advance. If anything, each new scientific discovery illustrates the awesome magnificence of God.
Sometime in the late 1980s I attended a seminar with about 60 other people. The facilitator walked onto a stage and drew a vertical chalk line down the center of a large blackboard. At the top left side the word "Religion" was written, and the audience was asked to verbally offer any word they believed related to religion. The attendees called out God, Jesus, Satan, Pope, Moses, Allah, angel, church, prayer, minister, hymns, forgiveness, dogma, heaven, hell, mysticism, worship, faith, grace, belief, sin, fear, vision, holy, salvation, scripture, alter, shrine, Ten Commandments, disciple, Holy Spirit, evangelist, doctrine, ritual, religious war, guilt, confession, intolerance, punishment, judgment, preaching, condemnation, piety, betrayal, Inquisition, sacred, anti-Christ, heathen, infidel, blessing, divinity, conformity, communion, morality, hypocrisy, sanctimonious, purity, convert, baptism, rebirth, prophet, consecration, devout, fanaticism, persecution, peer pressure, witch-hunt, heresy, blasphemy, damnation, Puritan, supernatural, good, evil, idolatry, group-think, bigot, exorcism, obedience, anti-Darwinism and so forth.
Then, at the top right side of the blackboard the word "Spirituality" was written and the audience was asked to verbally offer any word they believed was related to spiritually. The attendees called out God, divine, meditative, tolerance, acceptance, serenity, inner-peace, openness, love, oneness, no guilt, no fear, no punishment, transcendental, non-dogmatic, non-judgmental, humility, secular, individualism, creativity, serenity, awareness, reason, organic, transformation, questioning, no boundaries, Unitarianism, inclusive, self-expression, cosmic and so forth.
The facilitator stated, "These two lists are yours. Think of them as you wish.” Then he left the stage ending the seminar. I sat mesmerized as I looked at these two groups of words. For the first time in my life it became clear why even though I felt a great well of spirituality within, I had not been attracted to any religious belief system.
I have offered but a brief view of the grand subjects of religion and faith—things metaphysical in nature with enormous variants from religion to religion, and from person to person. Nevertheless, many religious people believe they have found definitive answers regarding God’s own truth, and to all the accompanying profound and complex questions. I don’t choose to exercise such “blind faith.” Instead, I'll happily spend my days at peace within while practicing my own spiritual belief of “doing things that make me feel good.” Things like being a good person, being a good father, being a good husband, being a good friend, treating people kindly, having tolerance for those whose opinions differ from mine (including differing opinions about God and religion although it’s difficult to tolerate the intolerant), helping those less fortunate than me, continuing self-education, being creative and using my best abilities, wit and humor to entertain myself and those whose path I cross.
Here’s a take on religion from comedian Emo Phillips.
“I was walking across a bridge one day and I saw a man standing on the edge about to jump off. So I ran over and said, ‘Stop! Don’t do it!’
‘Why shouldn't I?’
‘Well, there's so much to live for!’
‘Well, are you religious or atheist?’
‘Me too! Are you Christian or Buddhist?’
‘Me too! Are you catholic or protestant?’
‘Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?’
‘Wow! Me too! Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?’
‘Baptist Church of God!’
‘Me too! Are you original Baptist Church of God or are you reformed Baptist Church of God?’
‘Reformed Baptist Church of God!’
‘Me too! Are you reformed Baptist Church of God reformation of 1879 or reformed Baptist Church of God reformation of 1915?’
‘Reformed Baptist Church of God reformation of 1915!’
I said, ‘Die, heretic scum,’ and pushed him off the bridge.”
“Don’t be so heavenly you can do no earthly good.” –Unknown (supplied by friend Don Riley)
Years ago I requested that my cremated remains be committed to Blue Lake, which is located about two miles southeast of Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico. Blue Lake is the source of the Rio Pueblo de Taos, which flows through the Taos Pueblo village near Taos, New Mexico. But I learned such act would be a religious desecration of the Taos Pueblo culture whose people believe Blue Lake and the surrounding land (finally and rightfully returned to their possession by the U.S. government in 1970 and 1996) is the source of everything.
Now I request my ashes be deposited four miles north of Blue Lake in Middle Fork Lake, the source of the Middle Fork branch of the Red River located in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The Middle Fork branch flows about a mile north from Middle Fork Lake where it unites with the West Fork branch and then flows about a mile northeast to join the East Fork branch to form the Red River. From here the river extends six miles in mostly a northerly direction, cuts through the town of Red River and then runs about twenty miles in mostly a westerly direction where its contents contribute to the Rio Grande River—the nation’s 5th-longest, and the world’s 20th-longest river.
On several trips to the town of Red River during my college years I sometimes visited Middle Fork Lake. During those days the lake was accessible by four-wheel-drive vehicles providing an exciting, dangerous drive over twenty-two, dirt-road switchbacks up to this serene, pristine mountain lake. At the end of some switchbacks it was not possible to negotiate the sharp turn required to continue up the next switchback which meant the only way to proceed was by backing up the next switchback in reverse gear. I soon learned that backing up the first switchback allowed me to drive forward up the longer switchback segments of this mountain road. But motor vehicles are no longer allowed making Middle Fork Lake accessible only by hiking or by horseback. My most recent visit was in 1991 with my daughter Sophie.
After commitment to Middle Fork Lake some of my ashes may journey along the Middle Fork branch into the Red River, and then on into the Rio Grande. Even though this grand river now flows at only one-fifth its historical volume due to overuse, some of my ashes may meander its entire length to the Gulf of Mexico. And as I drift along on that long, lingering, mostly tranquil journey, this Texas boy will keep a close eye on things while the river sings our song on and on and on.