Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The New Year's elopement

Happy New Year. January 1, 2009, is our wedding anniversary: forty years. We eloped.

Forty years ago tonight I was about six weeks out of the Army. Sally and I were invited to a party. The party-givers, who we didn't know, actually invited our friends, Dick and Lynda, who invited us. The party was pretty boring. I'm sure I was drinking too much, as I did in those days, and I didn't know anybody. In an offhand way I said to Sally, "Why don't we go get married?" I think I was trying to be funny.

Ha, ha.


The laugh was on me. As soon as she heard the m-word Sally practically jumped into my 1967 Dodge. Dick and Lynda were game. They were as drunk as me. We took off in the night toward Wendover, Nevada, which is about two hours west of Salt Lake City. It had snowed and our route, I-80, was pretty slick in spots. I've always wondered if I was just too stupid to get killed or if some guardian angel wasn't looking over me. How I made it to Wendover in my drunken state on icy roads is a mystery to me.

When we got to Wendover Lynda went into a casino and asked if there was a justice of the peace who could marry her friends. The people there said we'd have to travel to Elko, the county seat, which was another bunch of the dark...on icy roads. As soon as Lynda came back to the car and told us the news my nerve fled me. It drained out of me like pulling the plug on a crankcase. I tried to back out, but no one was having any of it.

"No!" said Lynda. "We've come this far and YOU'RE GOING TO GET MARRIED."

You know what? I've told this story so many times I'm afraid it's taking on the smell of one of those bullshit lies I talked about in my last blog entry. But it's true, or at least as true as my memory can be counted on for the truth. I took one look at Sally, at the tears in her eyes and said, "Well, OK, Elko it is."

We got to Elko about 3:30 in the morning. We went to the Stockman's Casino. By that time the casino as emptying out. The drunks who had passed out were being ejected by the Elko Police, who were making periodic sweeps through the place. Lynda asked one of the cops, "My friends want to get married." The cop laughed. "Well, tell 'em to go upstairs and practice up. The courthouse will be open at noon." Damn, curses, foiled again! I'd been hoping that being New Year's Day no one would be venturing to do business like marrying folks. I have since learned about Nevada that rules be damned. It's a wide-open place when it comes to things like that.

An older man who was pretty drunk, but not drunk enough to be tossed out, waved us over and offered to buy us drinks. We sat down and were treated. He rambled on about something or other. I'm sure he wasn't as old then as I am now but he looked like a geezer to me. The drinks kept coming. At one point he was talking about something and looked down at the tabletop and said, "Oh, fuck the world!" Apparently, being alone on an early New Year's morning was a bit depressing for the guy.

In my wallet I had about $15. I think Dick had a few bucks, but neither of us had thought of how much it would cost for a wedding license, or any other costs for that matter. It was in the days before Visa, but the drunk man had a credit card he let the girls use to call home. Maybe American Express or one of Visa and Mastercard's ancestors, Bankamericard or Mastercharge. Sally called her stepmom about 5:30 a.m. and told her what was going on. My future mother-in-law said she'd call my mom, who had called her concerned that I hadn't come home. Me? I didn't care if anyone was worried or not. I was worried enough about how I was going to pull this wedding off.

Dick had been playing nickel slot machines for about a half hour, and winning. He told me, "I think people have been loading 'em up all night and they're ready to pay off." Were they ever! I won $65 in nickels in a very short time on one machine. A girl with a tray full of $2.00 rolls of nickels stood by me and as the jackpots kept coming she'd just hand me my winnings.

I had to go to the bathroom and when I came back the machine I'd been playing had an out of order sign on it. Ah, well.

I was wearing a sport coat and my pockets were loaded with heavy rolls of nickels. The rest of the morning is a blur, but at noon we were at the courthouse, getting our license. We weren't the only couple there to be married; we were first in line but there were some others there for that purpose. I am looking at a copy of my marriage license as I type this: Elko Township Justice Of The Peace Edward T. Lunsford performed the ceremony. Our friends Dick and Lynda were our witnesses and their signatures are on the license. I haven't spoken with either of them for over 20 years, but they were our best friends for at least a few years after the trip to Elko.

At the conclusion of the ceremony Justice Lunsford said to me, "It's customary to tip me." I asked, "Will you take rolls of nickels?" and he gave me an answer I have used ever since: "If the bank will take it, I'll take it." So I forked over two or three rolls of nickels.

The trip back to Salt Lake is also a blur, but when we got back I remember my father-in-law, Ray, shaking my hand and giving congratulations, and I also remember my mother in a white heat of anger. I'd gone home to take a shower, change clothes, face Mom. I don't remember exactly what she said to me but it was probably more of the same "you're a harebrain" talk she gave me often. In this case she was probably right. To make a long story even longer, Sally and I spent the night at Motel 6. Motel 6 ("We'll leave the light on for you") was named that because a room cost $6.00, which I paid for with rolls of nickels. Motel 6 was bare minimum stuff: a bed, bathroom, no TV, no phone. Hey, we were on our honeymoon, so (wink-wink-nudge-nudge) who needed a TV, and especially who needed or wanted a phone?

On that night, January 1, 1969, I had no idea how long the marriage would last. Just now using the calculator I figured that Sally and I have been married 14,600 days. Does that sound longer than 40 years?

Finally, a couple of weeks later we found out that the man who had used his credit card so Sally and Lynda could call home, and who bought us drinks, was using a stolen card. It was easier to get away with it in those days. It took a while before the paperwork caught up and the crook was long gone. By then I'd settled down into a dull terror that now I had a wife and responsibilities. Ulp. In my wildest imaginings I never thought down the road, probably no more than a few days or week at a time, and certainly not 40 years.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Bullshit lies

So, it turns out the dream romance was just that, a dream. The story of Herman Rosenblat and wife Roma, who it was said met at a concentration camp as children, then re-met and married years later in America, turns out to be a hoax. Herman Rosenblat excuses the falsehood, which brought his wife and him fame, as just trying to make people feel good.

Well, OK...that's fine, but it's also a bullshit lie. Sometimes people get caught up in their own lies and when they've told the lie long enough it becomes the truth to them. Maybe after all these years to Herman and Roma those 1945 events they described actually happened.

For a time when I was a junior in high school I was a bullshit liar. I told lies about things I can barely remember now. I scratch my head trying to figure my motives. I'm sure there are psychological reasons: wanting to be accepted, wanting to be the center of attention. One day I was at my locker in a hallway crowded with fellow students. A couple of lockers down I overheard two classmates laughing about one of my lies, and I knew I'd been busted. They knew I was lying to them, and I was embarrassed.

When I was telling whoppers I felt like an actor in a play, reciting lines, and I wonder if that's how Herman Rosenblat felt. As humans we're good at lying. Lying and deception are in our psychological makeup, but like a lot of other human behaviors we call it wrong for others yet do it ourselves.

Even though we all tell lies, we have a certain naïve quality that allows others to manipulate us with lies. A while ago I talked about people believing that they were abducted by aliens and taken into UFOs for medical experiments. Some of the people who tell these stories may believe them, but others are lying and they get people to believe them. Our capacity to believe lies makes it easier for a liar to get away with his craft.

Oprah had Herman Rosenblat and his wife on her show, and now that the truth has come out I'm sure she feels betrayed. Other people have been questioning the Rosenblat story for a while, and now that it's been exposed for the lie it is, I'm sure they feel vindicated. But there are other people who, even in the face of the truth, would rather believe the fiction.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Is it me...?

Or is it he?

I know it's been a week since I wrote you, my hundreds of thousands of adoring fans. Day after day e-mails fill my mailbox with your messages imploring me, "Please, El Postino, please come back to your blog. Enlighten us with your wisdom, guide us on our paths of intellectual curiosity, tell us in unsparing detail your fascinating outlook on life and describe to us everyone else's major character defects."

Of course, then I woke up and realized I'd been dreaming.

But this wasn't a dream, because apparently I do figure in other peoples' lives, in some strange way. A principal I've worked with for several years was talking to me recently. He mentioned that he found it enjoyable, "to talk to you and your wife in Las Vegas a couple of years ago."

I said, "I haven't been in Las Vegas since 1973."

He replied, "Oh, then it must've been Mesquite [Nevada]," to which I remarked, "I've never been to Mesquite."

He looked a little puzzled but continued on as if I hadn't just disrupted a memory. The thing is, and I've mentioned it in this blog before, people do think I'm other people. In the early '90s I was asked, "Are you the guy in the underwear ad?" Last year I was asked, "Aren't you the guy in the Auto Zone poster?" "No, I'm not."

Finally, I worked with a secretary for 15 years who was so sure it was me having dinner at the Macaroni Grill restaurant that she approached "me" and started talking. It wasn't until "I" said I wasn't "me" and didn't know "me" that she asked if perhaps "I" was my own twin brother. I can't vouch for the story because I wasn't the "I" talking to her.

So what makes people think they see me elsewhere? These aren't strangers, these are people who have worked with me every day for many years, and yet they think I'm someone else. Who the guy and his wife were that the principal thought were my wife and me I have no idea. I wonder if that couple thought my friend was some sort of crazy person.

It could be the white beard. Maybe that's what people are looking at, rather than my other features. What say you. I ask again, as I have asked before: Do you know me? Do you think you know me?


A few days ago I went to YouTube and found a video of sexy pin-up Bettie Page dancing. Someone had put a song by '60s garage rock band, The Seeds, over the video. I put it on my blog. Today I went again to YouTube looking for songs by bandleader/entertainer Louis Prima, and found one of his songs over another stripper, also named Betty, Betty Blue. I give you Betty, I give you Louis:

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Blue Eyes Crying

A few days ago I was taken by surprise by a pair of blue eyes. As I lost myself in a reverie about eyes being the windows of the soul, the eyes have it, and eyes on the prize, I thought about "Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain," one of my favorite songs of all time.

Thank god for YouTube, which is a treasure chest of music remembered, forgotten and new.

Roy Acuff did the first version of "Blue Eyes" the year I was born; his is a more uptempo version of the Fred Rose song. Hank Williams followed in this transcription from his old radio show, year unknown (gotta be very early '50s or late '40s, because Williams died New Year's Eve, 1952).

Willie Nelson's "Blue Eyes" is the one I heard first when it was released in the early 1970s. This version from Austin, TX, is Willie redoing the song as only he can. He would never be content to sing the same version over and over; he reinvents music. His is a lot closer to Hank Williams', which shows the evolution of a great song. Williams and Nelson both understood that "Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain" is a lament, a song about loss, not a hillbilly dance tune.

Finally, Sheryl Crow takes Willie's version and makes it her own song. But she continues on with the song as lament: "When we kissed goodbye and parted, I knew we'd never meet again." Powerful words in a simple melody, made so much more by the interpretations of the great artists who have sung this special song.

Roy Acuff, 1947

Hank Williams

Willie Nelson

Sheryl Crow, 2004

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Turning the Page

The cult fave, pin-up model Bettie Page, died the other day at age 85. I don't think anyone ever thought of her as being that age, because all of the pictures of her, and there are thousands out there, are of a young, voluptuous, beautiful woman.

I saw pictures of Bettie in 1966, after she retired as a model. A friend was showing me some old magazines and pointed her out. I was amazed at her beauty. I think everyone who sees her for the first time has that feeling.

Among her other modeling jobs, Bettie used to hire out to photography clubs. Guys with cameras would pay her to go on some location shooting, then take her picture. There could be thousands more pictures of Bettie we've never seen, from the late 1940's-early 1950s, in photo albums and in desk drawers. What she's most famous for, the pictures that helped sell hundreds of issues of magazines, "the kind men like," are everywhere. After her religious conversion Bettie went home to the South, then disappeared. There was a revival of her image in the 1980s, but she wasn't making anything off the public's appetite for her. She came forward and claimed her own pictorial representation. I hope she made some money from the process.

Page made an untold number of film loops and was the subject of photos with S&M as the theme. These were made by Irving Klaw in New York City, and sold to a specialized audience of guys who liked to see girls tied up or spanked. When I see pictures of S&M as it's done now it seems painful and dangerous, and someone could get seriously hurt. With Bettie you never got the feeling she was suffering; just that she seemed to be enjoying her work, and that for her it was all just another gig in front of the camera. In my adolescent mind the pictures of her in nylons and high heels seemed forbidden, mysterious, kinky. Nowadays you see stuff like that in the pages of fashion magazines. Apparently Bettie was about 50 years ahead of fashion. Either that or people looked at those old pictures and said, "That's the look I want for this ad!"

A captured still from the DVD, Bettie Page The Girl In The Leopard Print Bikini.

I believe that well into our current century, like Marilyn Monroe, Bettie Page will remain the object of a loyal following.

Here's a great video. Someone matched up an old burlesque clip of Bettie with the song, "Can't Seem To Make You Mine," by the '60s group, The Seeds.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Old galfriends

A coworker asked me a few months ago, "Do you ever wonder what happened to your old girlfriends? Do you ever wonder what they're doing now?" I answered, "Hell, no!"

I've gotten to a stage in life where I understand about unfinished and finished business. Some folks never do, so maybe I've got an advantage. I know when a relationship is over. I knew my relationship with Cathy was over when I was in the Army and got a Dear John letter from her. She told me she'd met someone else and they were going to get married.

I met Cathy when I was just short of 17, and she was barely 15. I was a junior in high school and she was a 9th grader. I suppose her folks were pretty liberal by letting us go out together, but usually we double-dated. Parents thought that was safe. It really wasn't; instead of one couple in a car necking you had two couples, but I digress.

Cathy and I practiced the relationship business on each other for about three years, and we made a lot of mistakes. Kids don't understand the process of courtship, the process of getting to know a person of the opposite sex, getting disappointed, getting dumped, getting your heart broken. We went through the process with monotonous regularity. We'd get to a point where we'd be fine, then something would happen and we'd be fighting again.

During one of our fights she went on a date with a classmate, who ran his Volkswagen Beetle into the back end of a parked car, sending Cathy to the hospital with her teeth knocked out. Luckily the boy's dad was a dentist who fixed her teeth for her. But the hidden damage was that she sustained some sort of brain injury. I never found out what it was.

After she was out of my life I got lucky. I met and married my wife, while the guy Cathy married divorced her at some point. I have no idea what happened to her after that, and after I get through writing this I'll go about the business of not thinking about her for say, the next 40 years.

Some people never get over former loves. Some still feel love for a person long gone out of their life. I'm not telling anyone how to feel, but I think I'm just more pragmatic. I don't waste time on someone who's gone. When a relationship is over it's time to just move on, not fret about what went wrong or worry about getting the person back. Not long after my youthful romance with Cathy ended I moved on, lessons learned.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Mom, is that you?

My friend linked to a really fun vintage pin-up blog.

I had a thought looking at all of these old-time girly photos. What if a guy in 2008 is looking at this site and sees a picture of his mother from her younger days, posing seductively? Here's a basic plot, and I'm throwing it out to all of you writers out there. Use it if you want to:

The man did not know this side of his mother or her past. His father is in the Alzheimer's wing of a nursing home, out of his mind. His mother died of cancer in her sixties, so he can't confront her. His mother's only surviving sister, his aunt, is initially close-mouthed, but tells him some names of people his mother mentioned during her wild days. The man decides to find out about her and uncovers her links to not only photo clubs (the clubs organized to take pictures of models for a fee), but also pornography, the mob and murder.

That's all I have. Your assignment, should you decide to accept it, will be to come up with a near 50-year-old mystery and the secrets the man uncovers that have a ripple effect to the present day.

I thought of it after finding this pin-up picture on another blog earlier this year.

The face reminded me of photos I've seen of my mother when she was young. Mom died this year at age 86, so she would have been the right age, and my imagination ran away with me. No one wants to think of his mother in this situation, but somebody's moms did it. There has always been a whole industry based on women who don't mind showing off their bodies, and there are a lot of guys who like looking at them, more than enough to support the industry.

If you use the plot, let me know. I'd love to read what you've written.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette

Thursday night we had Thanksgiving dinner at my brother-in-law Randy's house. We've been together for many years. Conversation was fun, we laughed and told stories.

At least once one of the family smokers slipped outside the house for a cigarette. In those long ago holiday celebrations three and four decades ago ashtrays were all over the house. We all just lit up where we were. We had a great meal, then finished it off with a cig and a cup of coffee or a drink. My father-in-law, Ray, smoked, I smoked...several people smoked until the air was choked with noxious fumes.

I started smoking as a teenager, but was in the Army before the addiction took hold. In June, 1967, we were taking a night class, outside, sitting on a lawn. An old sergeant noticed one of the guys in the back lighting up, so he said, "What the hell. Smoke 'em if you got 'em." I had a pack in my pocket and realized I was craving a smoke. Not just wanting it, but needing it. That's when I knew that all of the experimenting I'd done with tobacco over the past two or three years had finally come to addiction. When I tell that story people say, "How did you feel about it?" I guess they expect me to say I hated it. But I'm honest about it: "Well, it made up my mind as to whether I was a smoker or someone who just flirted with it. I knew then I was." I was kind of relieved. It was cheap, too. When I was in the Army cigarettes were 17¢ a pack! When I got home in late '68 the price doubled to 34¢.

It took ten years of smoking before I decided to seriously kick it, and it was because of the publicity about second-hand cigarette smoke, about kids growing up in a smoking household. My wife was pregnant with our son at the time. I set a target date and quit that day three months before he was born. I went through several days of withdrawal agony. By the time I'd been nicotine free for about two weeks I figured I'd beat the habit, and it turned out I had. Over the next few months I gained 30 pounds, though, and was pretty upset about that. That took another ten years to get rid of, but that's another story.

Nowadays I've almost forgotten how obnoxious smoking really is. I just don't see it that much. I'll be sitting at a traffic light and smell tobacco smoke from another car, or I'll see people standing outside a workplace, in the cold, puffing away. I'm grateful that on that date in 1978 I quit smoking. Just six months after my addiction became noticeable my father died of a heart attack at age 47. He was a lifelong smoker. Legend is, although he never confirmed it, that when he was 12 his mother handed him a carton of cigarettes and said, "I know you're going to smoke anyway, so you might as well smoke in the house." I didn't take heed of his death, let it be a lesson. I kept smoking anyway for nearly another decade.

When I quit smoking the average price of a pack was 65¢. Outrageous! Now I see people spending the better part of a $5.00 bill on a pack of cigarettes. If I hadn't already quit that would be enough to make me take the pledge.

"Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette" was a song that came out the year I was born--1947--and was made popular by Tex Williams. Asleep at the Wheel does a great version, featured in this video of happy, smiling--and presumably addicted--smokers.

"Smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette.
Puff, puff, puff, and if you smoke yourself to death.
Tell St. Peter at the Golden Gate, you just hate to make him wait,
But you've just gotta have another cigarette."

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Help, my life is a reality show!

Along with my recent posting about people who think they've been abducted by aliens, comes this recent article about people who think they're participants in a reality TV show. It's called the Truman Syndrome, after the 1998 movie, The Truman Show, starring Jim Carrey. Some psychiatric patients believe their life is being filmed without their permission.

Like alien abduction, the Truman syndrome is fueled by popular culture, and has worked its way into personal delusions. Quoting the copyrighted article by Jennifer Peltz of the Associated Press:

Researchers have begun documenting what they dub the "Truman syndrome," a delusion afflicting people who are convinced that their lives are secretly playing out on a reality TV show. Scientists say the disorder underscores the influence pop culture can have on mental conditions. "The question is really: Is this just a new twist on an old paranoid or grandiose delusion ... or is there sort of a perfect storm of the culture we're in, in which fame holds such high value?" said Dr. Joel Gold, a psychiatrist affiliated with New York's Bellevue Hospital.

In the last two years, Gold has encountered five patients with delusions related to reality TV. Several of them specifically mentioned "The Truman Show." Gold and his brother, a psychologist, started presenting their observations at medical schools in 2006. After word spread beyond medical circles this summer, they learned of about 50 more people with similar symptoms. The Oscar-nominated movie stars Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank. He leads a merrily uneventful life until he realizes his friends and family are actors, his seaside town is a TV soundstage and every moment of his life has been broadcast.

His struggle to sort out reality and illusion is heartwarming, but researchers say it's often horrifying for "Truman syndrome" patients.
A few take pride in their imagined celebrity, but many are deeply upset at what feels like an Orwellian invasion of privacy. Delusions can be a symptom of various psychiatric illnesses, as well as neurological conditions such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases. Some drugs also can make people delusional.

It's not unusual for psychiatrists to see delusional patients who believe their relatives have been replaced by impostors or who think figures in their lives are taking on multiple disguises.

But "Truman" delusions are more sweeping, involving not just some associates but society at large, Gold said.
Delusions tend to be classified by broad categories, such as the belief that one is being persecuted, but research has shown culture and technology can also affect them. Reality television may help such patients convince themselves their experiences are plausible, according to the Austrian woman's psychiatrists, writing in the journal Psychopathology in 2004.

Ian Gold, a philosophy and psychology professor at McGill University in Montreal who has researched the matter with his brother, suggests reality TV and the Web, with their ability to make strangers into intimates, may compound psychological pressure on people who have underlying problems dealing with others. That's not to say reality shows make healthy people delusional, "but, at the very least, it seems possible to me that people who would become ill are becoming ill quicker or in a different way," Ian Gold said.

Other researchers aren't convinced, but still find the "Truman syndrome" an interesting example of the connection between culture and mental health.

Makes sense to me. My personal feeling is that for some people fantasy, in the form of television, can become reality. It's a hell of a lot more interesting. Unfortunately for some of us, the dull reality of daily life can't be shut off by a remote control. For anyone actually wanting to invade my privacy and watch my daily life, well, good luck. I lead the most boring life imaginable. Even I pray for commercial breaks to get relief from the crushing monotony.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

"Please sir, can you spare 25 bil?"

The American automotive CEOs flew to Washington last week. After stepping out of their individual corporate jets, to everyone's disgust they went before Congress with hats in hand to beg for money.

I thought of the American car makers that have gone out of business in my lifetime. Just off the top of my head I can think of Studebaker, Packard, American Motors, Hudson...if I took the time to do a little research I'd probably come up with more that I've forgotten.

With all due respect to the working folks who earn their livings from GM, Ford and Chrysler, your companies have been mismanaged and their priorities gone askew. I hope that some help will come your way, but to ask me--who already pours more than enough of my income into your products--to contribute through taxes, well, gee, I gave at the office.

Anyway, looking at this beautiful car, in an ad in the July 7, 1947 Life Magazine, makes me wonder exactly what sort of thing happened to Studebaker that made it stop production in the U.S. in 1966. Studebakers were kind of a joke when I grew up in the 1950s and '60s; their cars were ugly to us, but now seem pretty in a designer way. Maybe they were just ahead of their time. The point is that as painful as it was I don't remember anyone asking the government for money to bail them out. Nor do I remember any other car companies doing the same. For all of our lives, as far back as we can remember, when a business succeeds it does it on its own, but there are lots and lots of reasons for failure, and no one cries to the government to extract them from the mess of their own making.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

That awful whisper

This ad came from a 1947 issue of Life magazine, a gift from my friend Peggy.

Paranoia rears its ugly head! The man hears a whisper between two women. They're talking about his body odor. Doesn't he notice it? Why not do something about it before the whispering starts?

Maybe he just thinks that's what they're whispering. Maybe what the women are whispering has to do with not wanting to be in an elevator with him because his hands get real busy. Maybe he eats garlic and his breath turns the elevator into a noxious fume factory.

Why not worry that the women know about something that's going to happen to him, like he's going to lose his job. He goes home and takes a shower using Lifebuoy soap, then goes to work the next day and gets a termination notice! No need to smell pretty for that.

The man is experiencing just what the ad men and copywriters want him to think. That he smells bad. That he offends. He not only has B.O., he has halitosis. He doesn't use a Gillette razor so he has a five o'clock shadow. His teeth are yellow because he doesn't use Pepsodent. He has nostril hairs and dandruff. Better get Wildroot Cream Oil, Charlie!

The list of bodily offenses goes on and on. When you think about it, just stay home so you won't offend anyone at any time! No one will have to whisper about you...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

False memories

In my last posting I mentioned false memories as being amongst the reasons people thought they'd been abducted by UFOs. I don't think I've been abducted by a UFO, although it's tempting to think that the reason I act the way I do might be attributed to aliens, but I'm sure I have a few false memories here and there. We humans, with those imperfect things called memories, are under a lot of influences. We can remember things that never happened.

Barb, a school secretary I encounter on my route, has reminded me several times when she met me I had long hair in a ponytail. I got my long hair cut in 1981, and was sure I hadn't met her until years later. As I pinned her down on the year she started working at the school district I found it was 1988, long after the ponytail was history. How had she remembered it? Because she worked with another lady who had worked with me in the late '70s and told her. As Barb and I established a working relationship her friend's memory became Barb's memory.

How many things do we actually remember, and how many we remember for some extraneous reason like that? I wonder how many things I have in my head that happened to me that actually didn't, that I may have seen on the ABC Movie Of The Week. Whew. The mind boggles.


Believe in synchronicity? I do. I mentioned a couple of things in my last posting, the false memories and creationists who believe dinosaurs existed at the same time as people 6,000 years ago, and saw those things the next day in the Sunday comic strips. If you pay attention there are a lot of coincidences in life, some of them meaningful, some not, but when they happen to me I always pay attention.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Reason to believe

It feels good to get off the political kick we've all been on for weeks.

Sally and I were talking about what makes a person believe. I've been reading a book called Abducted by Susan Clancy. It's subtitled "Why people come to believe they were kidnapped by aliens." The author did some studying of folks who believe, or say they believe, they have been abducted by little gray aliens. The author attributes a lot of the reason they believe this to sleep paralysis, false memories and pop culture, movies and television, planting images in peoples' heads.

Some belief is borne of the brain trying to make sense of something that makes no sense. That opens up a whole area that I don't want to get into because it's just too big. But I told Sally I'd heard an author talk about a book, The God Gene, about being genetically predisposed to believe.

Like the folks who think they've been abducted by aliens and had invasive medical experiments done on them, so do lots of people believe unequivocally in God, religion--at least one they find conforms to their needs--without any real proof that what they are believing in is real. Apparently Sally and I have missed out on that. Neither of us feels the need to believe in any kind of unseen world. I should qualify that by saying we just don't know. Unlike others who are seeking spiritual enlightenment, we just don't bother. We both come from families with that history, too.

Author Clancy is a psychologist with several degrees. In a clinical setting she talked to a lot of people who believed they'd been kidnapped. She asked if they had specific memories of the abduction and many said no, they just knew they'd been abducted. There were feelings they couldn't explain in themselves and when they cast about for reasons they settled on alien abduction. I guess it wouldn't be much different to say they'd been visited by angels, or the Virgin Mary. As she states in the book, she didn't test how religious the abductees were, but thinks that may have relevance.

Susan Clancy might be as close to figuring it out as anyone, but human beings are complicated. It seems everyone has a reason for everything no matter how strange--or alien--it might seem to other people. Often the person with the belief doesn't know why they hold that belief. That's probably where the idea of a gene that determines whether a person is a believer or not would kick in.

I believe, relying on the science of brain research, that people have a genetic predispositon to be a believer or non-believer. It could explain why it's so hard to communicate on that level, and causes people to puzzle over the behavior of others: "Why don't those people believe like we do? Can't they see the truth? It's right in front of them!" I look in the sky, I see lights, and that's what they are to me: lights. You look in the sky and see those same lights and you believe they are people from another planet, that they might be here to take you aboard their spaceship so they can perform hideous experiments. I have unexplained feelings and attribute them to my medication, stress at work, or insomnia, and you might look at those same problems and think they were caused by aliens giving you an anal probe or getting you pregnant with their babies. I see dinosaur bones and think of an earth hundreds of millions of years ago. You look at those same bones and think they were living creatures who were around 6000 years ago when Adam and Eve were setting up housekeeping in the Garden of Eden.

There are a lot of people, most, I'd guess, who'd resist the idea of a gene determining how and what we believe. Even though I can believe there's such a gene I don't believe it's wholly responsible. People just have too many influences and too many choices. There are also peer and family pressures to believe a certain way. To the religious folks It would take God out of the picture to have a gene that tells your brain whether you're religious or not. To them that's completely unacceptable. To the abductees it takes away a notion that why they act the way they do is beyond their control because they're being controlled by an external force.

The latest I heard is that a gene might determine whether you're a political liberal or conservative! I'm sure everyone could have fun with that.


While we're on the subject of believing, here's a fine cover of the old Tim Hardin song, "Reason to Believe," by Daniel Has Six Strings.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veteran's Day 1968

To all Veterans and someday-to-be veterans, HAPPY VETERAN'S DAY.

Forty years ago today I was being processed out of the U.S. Army at Fort Dix, NJ. Several of my buddies from Utah, and other areas of the country, were also being discharged in a group that was going home from Germany. I'd been looking forward to this for so long that I was running on adrenaline. Except for a catnap here and there I hadn't slept in over 24 hours.

We arrived at Fort Dix somewhere around 2:00 a.m. and were processed through customs. A GI ahead of me had his duffel bag searched. In the bottom they found a stack of porno magazines. The customs inspector said, "You know you can't bring these into the country," and they went into some sort of receptacle. Maybe later the customs agents had a look. Gotta see the evidence, you know. I'm sure there was a lot of porn in those pre-Internet days that was smuggled in, but a lot that was confiscated.

We were bused to the messhall, which even at that ungodly hour of the morning was staffed by basic trainees. We were tired, but I'll bet the KP's were even more tired. Can you imagine working the all-night diner? These poor guys suddenly had a hundred or more people to feed. As we went through the line I noticed a lot of trainees gawking at us. We were in our Class-A uniforms, with all our ribbons, patches, brass and insignias. I'll bet to them we looked like a bunch of generals. It hadn't been all that long since I'd been a trainee and didn't know the difference between grades or rank.

We were processed as quickly as possible because it was Veteran's Day, a federal holiday, and no one wanted to be there. I understood that normally it took about three days to clear Fort Dix, but they got us done in a matter of hours so they could all go home. Our discharge papers, our DD214 forms, were typed and presented to us. We were also given travel money. As the clerk said to us: "You have choices. You go by privately owned vehicle (POV) and you get the most mileage money for travel. You go by train or bus you get less, you go by air you get the least of all." He paused for effect. "You don't have to put down POV if you don't want to." Naturally, every one of us wrote down POV. I worried for a couple of years afterward that Uncle Sam would come knocking at my door and ask for his $500 back. Like everyone else I headed for the airline counter and got a flight to Salt Lake City. Cost: $55.00.

Before we left we stood in a formation. Dawn was breaking. A sergeant stood in front of us. "Now this is a goddam holiday. You're gonna be veterans on Veteran's Day. Everything's closed today. But if it was up to me I'd march every goddam one of you to the barber shop and get your goddam hair cut. You are a disgrace to the goddam uniforms you're wearing." With that last goddam farewell to the troops we were suddenly free men, shaggy heads and all, piling into buses for the nearby Philadelphia airport.

My buddy Wally and I snoozed on the way to Chicago's O'Hare International. We had to make a connection, but had a couple of hours to kill. We headed for an airport bar. While we were having our drinks--rum and Coke--we saw a commotion in the concourse. We looked up to see a dozen or more people moving fast, led by Diana Ross, the singer late of the Supremes. After forty years that memory is still clear: Ross was wearing a floor-length white mink coat which was flapping open as she ran. The people behind her were carrying luggage, and one man even had two small poodles in his arms. They were all African-Americans, and they were all wearing fur coats.

Diana Ross at LAX this year. No mink coat for this trip:

My brother picked me up in Salt Lake in the late evening, and we talked some before I crashed. I had been up for what seemed like days. We had left our unit in Nuremberg, Germany, on Saturday the 9th, traveled by train to Frankfurt, and except for our time at Ft. Dix we had been in airports and on planes ever since. That Monday night I slept in my own bed for the first time in a long time. The next morning I got up and went to see Sally. As I think back on those events forty years ago it's like the old cliché: It was the first day of the rest of my life.

For another Veteran's Day message click here.

Last year's Veteran's Day message is here.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

When the storm hit

You watch as the clouds roll in, big, dark, ominous. You know that you're in an exposed place, vulnerable, and the full force of the storm will hit you.

You know there is nothing you can do but wait for the fury to envelop you, to hang on to anything you can, a tree, your wife, anything that will keep you from being blown off the ground and tossed like a woodchip through the air.

Suddenly it's on you and you take the full brunt, all the energy that has been gathering and building. It is just what everyone predicted, and you must ride it out however you can. Within a few hours it's over. But the storm has left massive damage, not only to you but to everyone around you.

Imagine you're John McCain and that storm was last Tuesday. If there is anything left to pick up, I hope you won't need FEMA to help.

While Barack Obama might be the first African American to attain the job of President of the United States, portrayals of black presidents have been around for a long time, going back at least to The Man, starring James Earl Jones as Douglas Dillman. In the movie Dillman becomes President through a complicated set of coincidences with the line of succession to the presidency. In 1972, when the movie was produced, that would have been the only way a black man would have gotten the job.

More recently we had Morgan Freeman, who has played other roles not traditionally seen as black--Little John in Robin Hood comes to mind--as the president in the 1998 movie Deep Impact.

Dennis Haysbert, tall and distinguished, was President David Palmer for several years in the series 24. Haysbert went on to represent Allstate Insurance in commercials and to the lead in the series, The Unit. Haysbert has said publicly that he believes his portrayal helped Barack Obama win the nomination.

I believe Haysbert in a larger sense, that these roles have helped put in the public mind the notion of a black man as president wouldn't be all that unusual.

I also believe that having black people more active in television and movies has placed them in the public consciousness, a place where they were invisible until the late 1960s. In response to the Civil Rights movement producers put more African Americans in movies and TV. The generation my son represents grew up seeing black people on TV every day. They weren't as exotic as they seemed to us Baby Boomers who grew up in a whites-only television environment.

Finally, I found it interesting that the latest Time has a front cover with Obama, and a back cover with Tiger Woods. Both men are superstars in venues formerly closed to people of color, both men are mixed race. Could this juxtaposition have been a coincidence? Hmmm.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Halloween goes SPLAT!

Every year it's a challenge to know how many Halloween trick-or-treaters we need to be prepared for. We've lived in our neighborhood for 33 years; young children have grown up, left home. The neighborhood's aggregate age got older, so for a few years we had no trick-or-treaters, then more young families with young kids moved in. Last year we had a bunch of little kids, but the rush was over by 8:00 p.m. Last night they came until we turned out the lights and locked the door at 9:00. All night we had little kids with parents in tow, but many of the kids looked older; last night the very last visitors were teenagers who were with a person standing outside our gate. He/she was in costume, but just out of the light so I couldn't make out details. The person looked large...looming, scary. The teenagers took their candy without a thank-you, then scrammed so we shut it down for the evening.

I didn't recognize many of the kids who were ringing our doorbell; I believe they had been at it for a while, going from block to block, and had pillowcases full of candy to show for it.

What's fun about trick or treating is seeing the real little kids in costume, maybe out for their first time. I don't want to see jaded, greedy teenagers. Kids, when you're about 9 or 10 you should really be thinking about retirement from the trick or treat experience. Leave it to the littl'uns.

My son told me his daughters were content to watch the kids who came to their house all evening. The girls didn't want to go out trick or treating themselves. It's something I've noticed about them, and especially the older one, Bella. She is a very careful observer. She checks it out. She doesn't jump into anything. I think that's a good quality. It'll help keep her out of all kinds of trouble as she grows up.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween from the Famous Monsters!

The Famous Monsters faces of fear!

Frankenstein's monster, the Phantom of the Opera, and Mister Hyde!

Dracula, the Mummy and Wolfman...

Your sexy 8th grade English teacher after school!

Sarah Palin after you've had a couple of drinks!

The clown from your third birthday party!

Yo' Mama!


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Make your own masks

It's hard to believe that:

a) It's Halloween tomorrow;

b) this damn election stuff is nearly over.

The way the news organizations are carrying on, the way the Republicans are acting, it appears that they are bracing for a big scare.

So, BOO!

While we're at it, let us not forget that we still have a sitting president with a sitting cabinet, and they are supposedly working, not watching The Daily Show, CNN or Fox News. Just to remind us you can print off one or all of these faces, cut eyeholes and holes at the ears, tie on some string and make your own Halloween masks.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Goodbye Uncle Jack

They held a graveside service for Sally's Uncle Jack today. He died last week at age 86.

This picture, taken circa the late 1950s, shows Jack at the very left. Next to him is his mother, we called her Nany, Jack's wife LaVon, Shirley and Ray, Sally's parents. That's Sally, sitting on the couch far right, holding her baby brother. Jack and LaVon's three kids are on the couch, intermingled with Sally's brothers and sisters.

All the people in the back row are gone. Jack was the last of them.

Jack had an incredible sense of humor and a natural storytelling ability. You gravitated toward Jack at a party because he was so entertaining. Jack had some funny sayings, including one that cracks me up just to think of it. "How was the honeymoon?" "Two pot bellies and a short pud."

Jack told a joke at a family function years ago, and I wish I'd recorded it. But when I remember it I can hear Jack's voice:

"A man goes to a doctor. He's got a big wart on his nose. The doctor says, 'Hmmm. Better lay in bed, rest the wart in a chair. Once an hour rub this ointment on it and call me in the morning.'

"The next morning the man called the doctor. 'So how's it going?' asks the doc. 'Terrible!' says the man. 'Now I'm in the chair and the wart's in the bed!'"

That joke was probably old during the time of Vaudeville, but no matter. They way he told jokes, stupid or not, they were funny.

When Sally and I first got married, 40 years ago, Nany told a story about Jack and Sally's mom, Shirley, when they were little kids. They were mad at their parents so they packed little suitcases and made their way down the sidewalk. They sat on their suitcases for a while, then wandered back home. Nany didn't respond to them, so Jack said to her, "Well, I see you've still got the same old cat."

That was Jack. Even at an early age.

We'll really miss you, Jack.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

"Republican for a reason"

We were driving on a street adjacent to ours when my wife noticed a man standing by his lawn sign. "Republican for a reason," she quoted. "Hmm. We ought to stop and ask the guy what his reason is."

I have written before about how Republican Utah is, for seemingly no reason except that some people feel they have to be. (See here.)

My mom and dad were staunch Republicans. My dad gave money to the party, attended money-raising dinners for a local congressman, and hated the Democrats.

If you asked my Mom and Dad why they hated Democrats they'd say, "They always get us into a war." If you asked why they loved Republicans they'd say, "They keep us out of war." If you consider Woodrow Wilson and World War I, FDR and World War II, Truman and the Korean War and Lyndon Johnson with the Vietnam War, that seemed to be the case. That was before Republican George W. Bush and the Iraq War (and does anyone call it Operation Enduring Freedom anymore?) As far as World War II went, there was that little thing called Pearl Harbor.

My parents might also have complained, "Democrats tax and spend," which is a Republican mantra. The difference is, of course, that our Republican generation spends and doesn't tax, just puts it on the tab "for later."

My father was a Goldwater Republican, very conservative, and if you mentioned Franklin Roosevelt you'd get a lecture on "those goddam government giveaways." Along with being Republican Dad was racist. He thought black people were all siphoning welfare money and using it to drink, take drugs, impregnate teenage girls and play craps. I'm sure Mom went along with that viewpoint. They were born in the early 1920s and were purely products of their generation and upbringing. I can hardly blame them if all they ever heard about other races was bad. It was what it was, an era of intense race prejudice.

What always struck me was that Mom and Dad, each coming from different rural towns in the center of Utah, where the Depression hit very hard, were so anti-Roosevelt and his government programs. I think I know why, because Mom and Dad came from successful families and had more than the people who were struggling. My dad's father died in 1932, before Social Security, and his widow, who never worked, and children got through the Depression just fine. Dad went to a private school and an exclusive college, so Grandpa must've had some good insurance. Even so, could they not see what was going on around them, the poverty, the bank failures, the near-anarchy that raged before Roosevelt got into office and implemented programs to bring back American confidence?

Lately there are some revisionist histories of the Depression, that laissez-faire economics could have eventually saved us. That was the platform of the Republicans at the time, and it's why they got booted from office in 1932. The Depression claimed the jobs of 25% of the population. As some historians have noted, America was very close to revolution. Maybe laissez-faire economics might have saved the system, if there had been time for it to work. However, we are talking about events that happened nearly 80 years ago. Someone can point a finger and say it didn't have to happen that way but it's immaterial because it did happen.

I'm sure that lurking in the minds of our modern politicians who pushed through the 700-billion dollar bailout were thoughts of the Depression and Roosevelt's New Deal. Bush and Company would want to be thought of in the same way, that they were the white knights who rode in and saved the economy.

When the time comes, everybody, conservative or liberal, signs up for Social Security, a Roosevelt-era program. They love Medicare, a Great Society program from Democrat Lyndon Johnson. No one wants to give up the social safety net those programs provide, and when George W. Bush tried to sell the idea of privatizing Social Security his sales job fell on deaf ears. Even Republicans claimed not to be home when he came to call with that proposal.

I don't believe the Republican party my parents belonged to is the same Republican party that exists today. Barry Goldwater was a thinking man's conservative, a pragmatist who was still able to work with Democrats. Today's Republicans have been co-opted by radical religious types, unthinkable forty years ago. They don't want to work with anybody, just dictate. Dad wasn't religious and he would have been appalled by their takeover of the GOP. The spending the Republicans now do would have disgusted him.

I'd hope that Dad, who died in 1967, a year of racial and civil turmoil, would have been educated over the years and would have realized that this is a different world than the one in which he grew up. I'd hope he'd have left those prejudices somewhere in his past and embraced the new era, where an African-American can actually be leading in the polls in the race for President of the U.S.

And, oh yeah. I was once also a Republican. My first vote in 1968 went to Richard Nixon because I believed him when he said he had a plan to win the war. By 1972 I was a Democrat and have never looked back.