Sunday, June 19, 2016

A FATHER'S DAY PRIMER IN EXTERIOR PAINTING

I originally wrote this in 2007. This morning, I made a couple of minor edits and here it is, my Father's Day story. 
Way back in the 1970s, when I lived in New Jersey, my boss would lay me off during summer months because he could get three school kids on break to work for what he was paying me. I was happy since I got time off to work outside painting residential and commercial buildings. Without a doubt, I took great pride in my work and made pretty good money, to boot. Satisfaction all the way around!
In those days, I preferred oil base or alkyds over latex because there was less of a chance of mold and mildew developing on the surface, mostly on shaded sides. Occasionally, my father would drop by my job sites to see me diligently at work. He'd always call me Rembrandt.
About fifteen years ago, now in Florida, he asked me if I'd be interested in painting his house. Sure, I said. I wasn't going to charge him for my work, but I certainly wasn't going to pay for the cost of preparation and materials.
Two of my friends were professional painters. Since I had been out of that field for many years, I wanted to know what, if anything, was new since the days of old. I said I preferred oils over latex. They were adamant in their reply, "No! Latex today is much better than it was back then. It has really good mold inhibitors now. Oil base paint will actually encourage mold, especially here in Florida."
That was a real surprise, but the last time I painted anything was when I lived up north. In Florida, structures have to contend with incredible heat, the effects of the sun and torrential downpours. The sun, in particular, depletes and dulls the paint's pigment.
"Make sure you have the house pressure washed and sealed before you do it. That is very important," they both told me, "or the paint won't stick. If you don't, the paint will crack, peel, and bubble in a year or two."
I passed that information on to my father and he said, "No, I just want it painted. Just that, nothing more."
I went back to my friends and told them what he said.
"When you run your finger across the surface and that chalky stuff comes off, that's dead paint. Try painting chalk and see if it sticks. Go ahead." They'd had these problems before, obviously, with cheap customers wanting to save money. These would be the same customers that would run back to the painter to complain at the first sign of trouble. That's my father. Is that what I wanted? No, so I told him I wouldn't do it unless he prepped the house. Period.
"Knowing you," I said, "you'll run back to the paint store screaming about inferior paint and the first thing they're going to ask is, did you pressure wash and seal it first? What are you going to tell them?" He relented and agreed. He had no choice if he wanted me to do the job. I asked him to get it washed and I would seal it. It was still going to be much cheaper than hiring a painter because labor wouldn't be a factor.
The house is one story with a full attic. It's constructed of cement blocks with the front and sides having a stucco finish The attic is wood, gabled with a 6/12 pitch. I made sure all wood trim was scraped, allowed to dry, and primed where necessary. I always apply two coats. When I began my prep work, I dug out the foundation all around, brushed off the dirt, and allowed it ample time to dry. In case of ground erosion, I didn't want any areas exposed without paint. Then, I began, from top down ...
I made sure to paint under window sills that had never seen a brush. For some reason, many contractors avoid finishing areas you don't normally see and that exposes part of the building to the elements. Besides, suppose someone's planting flowers around the house. They look up at the sill and see sloppy, unfinished work. Not good. After painting the entire house by using only brushes, I finished and filled the dirt back in at the foundation. (I told you I am meticulous. Fifteen years later, the house is still in very good shape.)
Several months after I completed my job, the people next door decided to paint their house. It was a classic case of 'keeping up with the Joneses.' While it looked nice, he didn't listen to the painter or he got his pimple-faced nephew to do it because, about a year or two later, like clockwork, the paint began to crack, peel, and bubble, just like my painter friends said.
One afternoon, the neighbor came knocking on my father's door. Very puzzled, he asked, "Why isn't your house doing it, too?"
Ahhh... my father had a very knowledgeable answer. "Did you pressure wash and seal it first?"
"No..." the neighbor replied.
"I see," he said, already primed with an expert response. "Well, you should have asked me first. I would have told you exactly what you needed to do."

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Judge Perry: Little Black Boy

The following is a true story from 1989.
I worked as an artist/designer for Stonebrook Advertising in Orlando. We created print ads and radio commercials for the Belk Lindsey department store chain. Mostly, it was newspaper ads, but, yes, I did a few voice overs. My boss was Glenn Stone, but you couldn't call him Glenn. He was always Mr. Stone and he liked to wear dark, expensive suits, slick and kind of glossy looking; and just to give you an idea of how formal he was, I happened to be in his neighborhood late one Saturday morning. He was outside, cutting the grass while wearing a starched white shirt and tie. I kid you not. I think his wife even called him Mr. Stone.
One workday afternoon, he called me into his office. "Dave, come on in here and sit down. This here is Judge Byrd. He's running for re-election and he needs some artwork done."
I recognized the gentleman and offered a handshake. “Good afternoon, Your Honor.”
I knew right away that he and Mr. Stone were old friends. It was quite obvious they both were from the same “good ol' boy” mold that still permeates in communities everywhere, especially in pockets of the deep south. Mr. Stone explained that Judge Byrd needed campaign designs including ads for newspapers, bumper stickers and bulk mailer pieces. Mr. Stone decided that I would do the work for the judge. Oh, great. Tag, you're it.
Originally hailing from New Jersey, I had a few inherently stereotypical prejudice issues with southern judges and politicians from what I had heard in the news over the years -- hanging trees and all. Nothing major at the time because I had already been in Florida for eight years; it was just a slight amount of apprehension. Being white, I wasn't too concerned about myself, as long as I could muster up a good southern drawl if pulled over by the law. Not really, but I think you get my drift.
We sat there and discussed what kind of strategy would help in his bid to retain his seat. We went over design ideas. Judge Byrd was running against someone I had never heard of until a few weeks earlier, when some upstart named Belvin Perry announced his candidacy to unseat Judge Byrd in the Osceola County Circuit Judge race. I don't recall that party affiliation had anything to do with it, but I was immediately rooting for Belvin. I couldn't say exactly why at the time, but I just didn't particularly care all that much for Judge Byrd. Although I couldn't pinpoint the reason, it probably had to do with the southern thing and that persnickety air of white male privilege that wasn't as inherent in the New York/Philadelphia corridor, from whence I came.
After going over the plan of attack and some incidentals about his opponent, Judge Byrd was ready to leave, confident in the knowledge that we would deliver exactly what he needed to garner a victory. As he walked out of Mr. Stone's office, he proudly exclaimed something that I found quite shocking and highly offensive...
"I'm gonna kick that little black boy's ass."
Mr. Stone was all excited. I was flabbergasted. I couldn't believe what I had just heard. I said nothing in return. As a matter of fact, I didn't respond at all. My face went blank. How could a sitting judge display blatant racism like that? Suddenly, I had a real problem. Personally, I wanted to do everything I could to help Judge Byrd lose the election. Professionally, I had to do everything in my repertoire of artistic talents to get him re-elected or face losing my job. I was very confused, to say the least. It was a lose/win, win/lose proposition. I didn't want him to be re-elected, but I had to do my professional best to design winning ads, bumper stickers and flyers. Why me, dear Lord, why me?
I called an attorney friend of mine and told him I needed to talk about something VERY important. We met after work and I explained my moral and professional dilemma.
"My personality is split in half on this, Bill. I don't want to do it, but I don't want to lose my job. Since I'm obligated to do it, I've got to give it my all as a professional. I have to help the guy get re-elected and it goes against my moral fiber."
He was quite familiar with the judge, too, and pretty much felt the same way. "Boy, Dave, I've been an attorney a long time now and that's a new one on me. It's a mess and I don't envy you at all. If you want my professional advice, you have to do it unless you have another job lined up somewhere and I'm sure you don't." 
He was right, I didn't.
I went to work on a strategy I felt would benefit Judge Byrd. I set up a slate of ads that had to run at certain times throughout the campaign. They had to be laid out in different sizes, too, since, in those days, newspapers weren't alike. I worked on demographics so I could recommend where I felt mailing the flyers would benefit him the most. And the bumper stickers. Oh, yes, those things. They looked nice, but I cringed when I got behind his supporters, and I saw quite a few. I wanted to say, "Hey! That's my design. Oh, never mind."
I was proud of my work. I was sick of my work. And I waited for election day with bated breath.
Judge Byrd lost his bid for re-election. It was a bittersweet victory for me. I wondered if there was something I did wrong. But I was glad he didn't win and I knew in the end that it didn't hurt me professionally. There was no blame; no guilt. Judge Byrd took his loss well. All politicians know one day they will lose.
Bill asked me how I felt. Very relieved, I said. Was there something subconscious inside that held me back from really giving it my all? Oh well, it was over and my secret personal nightmare was, too.
Judge Belvin Perry went on to become Chief Judge of the Ninth Judicial Circuit and, of note, he presided over the Casey Anthony trial. And Judge Byrd? I saw him years later at a Belk Lindsey store. He remembered me and we had a very nice chat. He went back into private practice.
My friend Bill became a workmen's compensation judge for the state of Florida, appointed by then governor Jeb Bush. I always told him what a fine, fine judge he'd make one day and he did. He's still as humble as the day we first met.
In the end, it was the will of the people that unseated Judge Byrd, not my designs. Thank God I was never asked to do anything like that again. Torn apart, I wouldn't wish it on anyone.

Friday, April 29, 2016

WOMEN'S MOVEMENT LOST IN LADIES' ROOM!


I don't know if women want men in their public bathrooms or not. I don't think most men would care if women walked in on us, though. Heck, we might give you a show! Actually, that's not true, and this whole mess about toilet access is turning into a form of hysteria that we need to flush out of our systems. The problem is, Democrats hate Republicans and Republicans hate Democrats and never the stain shall meet. What's happened is that the country has suddenly grown up; it caught up with the rest of the world, and an entire segment of society wasn't ready for it, wasn't prepared and still isn't. Damn Obama. I mean, could you imagine John Wayne donning a dress and lassoing a stall in the ladies' room? "That's mine, Pilgrim!"
Well, Caitlyn Jenner - a Republican - just used the mens' room at Trump International Hotel in New York City (with his blessings, sort of) and dangled a video in front of Ted Cruz's nose, "Thank you, Donald, really appreciate it. And by the way, Ted, nobody got molested..."
(Oh, and, since this stinky mess infested the newswaves, I've been asking store owners, managers, and employees a simple question. One by one, they answered me, although, I did get a NO COMMENT or two.)
"Is it okay for me to use the ladies' room if the mens' room is occupied?" These weren't single stall rooms that could be mistaken for unisex ones.
"Ummm.. Yeah, I guess so." Could you imagine this response a few months ago? And that's part of the problem. It's all happening so fast, no one knows the law. They think men can surrepticiously use ladies' rooms now.
§
Like a rocket ship soaring off the launchpad into space, the booster stage ignited when same-sex marriage became legal in the United States on June 26, 2015. Leading up to it and even today, the country is split over the Supreme Court decision. But all of a sudden, the booster separated and a massive force thrust the transgender toilet issue into the forefront. BAM! Like a phallic symbol, the rocket ship pierced through the stratosphere of society and it seems to be leaving conservatives and fundamentalists behind. Huh? Just like that, it's a brave new world.
Sadly, all that the liberal progressives do is mock and laugh and denounce conservatives, calling them stupid, uneducated, dimwits, both racist and sexist in nature, plus a few more unsavory adjectives that, in my opinion, only show how stellar they aren't, either. They want conservatives to roll over, play dead, and let them mold the country in their image. Of course, the conservatives fire back and here we are now, in a very uncivil war. Progressives v. Conservatives. Closed-minded v. Closed-minded. Who gets to use what public bathroom and why it should or shouldn't matter any more.
§
In the 1980s, I worked with a nasty womens' libber. She despised men. What I saw on the news was no prize, either. Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan were overtly militant and it turned many men off. How were we [men] supposed to answer their call when they made it clear they hated us? Eventually, they softened their tone and we did, too. Of course, women were always equal as far as I was concerned, I just didn't appreciate the messengers early on. That's what's happening now. Oh, not me, but to many others, and I think it's stupid, uneducated, and a few more adjectives, when the progressive side doesn't see it for what it is: rubbing crap into the faces of people who don't want to change so quickly. So the conservatives retaliate the only ways they can, like what happened in North Carolina.
Look, I have no problem with transgenders. Heck, I've probably whipped it out at a urinal while unsuspectingly standing next to a gay or trans man. So what? No one ever thinks about that when they're taking a leak. For that matter, there may have been a transdude sitting in the stall nearby. I don't care. I go into a men's room to do my business, finish my business, wash my hands, and get out. And so do they. That's exactly the way it is in ladies' rooms, too, and people like Caitlyn Jenner aren't looking to molest anyone!
Here's what I say. If you don't like the new North Carolina law, boycott the state. If you don't agree with Target's policy on sharing bathrooms and fitting rooms with transgenders, just don't shop there. Problem solved. Go to Walmart instead, well-known as a bastion of normalcy. As for states that have passed sex at birth anti-transgender laws, I'd like to know who is going to check birth certificates at the door. Who is going to look at the plumbing before entering, the Poo-Pee Police? Inspecker Clouseau? Spread your legs, I'm a cop! It's a fabricated fear. Why? Because I'm more afraid of a Dennis Hastert-type guy than I am of anyone else.
§
Now that we're drifting in orbit, are all systems really go? Is everything A-OK? No, not really. Remember, some guys don't know any better now. While I don't believe much of this type of scenario will take place – not yet – another problem arises, and it's something that hardly anyone is taking into consideration. 
Just the other day, a very dear female friend of mine stopped at a fast food restaurant. While there, she used the ladies' room. It had two stalls. She finished and walked up to the sink to wash her hands and gaze into her bright, beautiful, sultry and seductive eyes... No, I'm going off-topic. Sorry. She was standing there when, all of a sudden, a man entered with his very elderly mother. The woman had a walker. My friend decided right away it was time to leave, and she did! No words were spoken.
This type of situation creates several problems. First off, I would have taken my 90-something-year-old mother into the men's room. I'm a man. No guy would care if I took my elderly mother there and into a stall. Neither would she. Secondly, I wouldn't just barge into the opposite sex restroom unannounced. I'd declare myself. If people were in there, I'd allow them their personal space and wait for them to leave. To not do so is rude. What gave him the right to enter? It could be how the new rules are interpreted because no one is making them clear. To say this woman is beautiful is an understatement and there's no way, as a heterosexual male, that I wouldn't look at her ANYWHERE and not say to myself, “WHOA! What a looker!” Especially in such an exclusive setting. I'm certain he did the same thing. In any event, he was the real idiot. Or he was way smarter than we think?
When it comes to personal intimacy, on a scale of 1-10, what room comes directly after the boudoir for privacy? While, fortunately, he posed no danger or threat to her, is it okay if any masculine, heterosexual guy uses the ladies' room because he thinks he can? What if my friend had pushed open the door and there he stood inside? She would have immediately turned around and left! A woman (or 12-year-old) shouldn't be fearful when she needs to use a bathroom facility. That's her right, not a man's. Now, she says, she eyeballs women when she uses one. They all look each other over, and they're not looking for transgenders. It's the freaks and perverts. Welcome to the wonderful world of weirdos and the strangers who are going to pee on your seat.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Today is Earth Day

I wrote the following on April 22, 2008. (Hopefully, my writing style is a bit more refined and focused today.) I've become a whole lot more conscientious about our planet since the first one, and public perceptions about marijuana have changed dramatically.
MY FIRST EARTH DAY 
". . . on April 22, 1970, Earth Day was held, one of the most remarkable happenings in the history of democracy. . . "
 -American Heritage Magazine, October 1993
§
I remember the very first Earth Day. It was called Moratorium Day in 1970. I was attending Hunterdon Central High School (now known as Hunterdon Central Regional High School) and a lot of commotion was stirred by our teachers and fellow students preceding that day. The first thing to catch my attention, and those of plenty of my peers, was that all classes were to be suspended on Earth Day. Instead, we would have seminars in what seemed like a giant trade show, with local and state business and community leaders converging on our school to speak to us about our planet, how to improve our lives and what we could do to be positive forces in the world. We were in the middle of a terrible conflict in Vietnam and drugs were becoming an ever present occurrence in all of our lives, whether we did them or not. Everyone was very much aware of those two things. At the time, I wasn't much of an environmentalist, although I never had anything against ecology and conservationism. My concerns lay more in the sphere of my social environment, so who we knew that went to Viet Nam and whether drugs were cool to do or not were more important issues than saving the planet from pollution. Remember, these were the days before the '73 oil embargo, Watergate and words like vegan and tree hugger had not yet parsed our lips.
I recall that about a week before Earth Day, we were given a form to fill out with explanations on each symposium. We had some that were mandatory to attend and many more that were electives. At no time during the day were we to have free time, except for lunch. That way, we were always accounted for, being carefree high school students and all. Just like regular classes, we weren't supposed to skip these meetings, either. Mandatory roll calls were to be taken, but they never were. After a while, we knew how to play the attendance game.
One I signed up for dealt with drug education. Of course, being high school kids and "hip" on the drug scene, a lot of my friends attended that one, too. I'm sure we knew more than the cops. Once there, we learned about the evils of marijuana, hashish, LSD, STP, heroin and whatever was big back then and the tools used to ingest them, like rolling papers, pipes and needles. We also learned how to detect users, how to turn them in and how to avoid frying our own brains from drugs. It was held in the main auditorium and there was a long table filled with all sorts of paraphernalia to view. Lou Rocco was the county drug czar back then and he was our lecturer. Several cops stood near him. I knew him well enough, too, because his daughter, Angie, had been the first to train me when I started working at the Weiner King restaurant in the fall of '68. He was a regular customer and Angie took a shining to me. She went on to be a nurse or something because she got a job at the Hunterdon Medical Center.
After his speech, good old Lou invited us to join him at that long table so we could get up close and personal with the stuff on display. We were allowed to pick up some things, but the real goods were kept at a distance. First, he explained what each item was, and then he prompted us to ask questions. I have always been known as a practical joker. During that question and answer period, I secretly swiped a piece of incense while Mr. Rocco was answering someone's question and his back was to me. I don't know what the other cops were doing but they weren't watching me. What I picked up was no ordinary piece of incense. It smelled just like marijuana when burning and it was used to train police and narcotics agents. Oh boy, what do I do with my newfound stash, I wondered.
When the seminar ended, I casually walked into the men's room by the main entrance, just beyond the auditorium. I waited for everyone else to leave and entered one of the stalls. The stalls back then didn't have doors on them in our school. Not the men's room, anyway. That way, teachers could make sure no one was smoking cigarettes. I carefully placed that valuable piece of pot incense behind the toilet and lit it. I hightailed it out of there before the stuff began to smell. It didn't take long before that became the biggest news at the high school that day. POT SMOKING STUDENTS USE HIGH SCHOOL MEN'S ROOM ON EARTH DAY! Imagine that, some stupid kids had the audacity to smoke pot with all those cops swarming about. They never did get caught, though, and Lou Rocco and the rest of his force never figured out a piece of their educational material went missing.
There you have it. My first Earth Day was spent smoking up the men's room with chemically manufactured marijuana. I'm sure it was manufactured overseas from artificial ingredients. Since 1970, I've learned a lot about war, drugs and what we can do to keep ourselves and our planet healthy. I hope you have, too.
That would be far out, man. Peace.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

FEEL THE TERN

To everything, tern, tern, tern.
There is a season, tern, tern, tern.
And a time to every purpose under heaven.
Bernie Sanders was giving a speech in Portland, Oregon last week when a little bird decided to ‪#feelthebern‬. It landed onstage, flew off and returned, perching itself on the podium. The crowd roared with exuberant excitement! It was seen as some sort of presidential prediction - an omen of good things to come. Perhaps it was, because I have an experience; a first-hand account of how birds can alter the course of human history. Sometimes good, other times...
Many years ago, in the 1970s, I spent a lot of time on Long Beach Island in New Jersey. Beach Haven, in particular. My old boss, Jack Little, the best boss in the world, owned a Weiner King restaurant there (open from Memorial Day through Labor Day) and I'd drive 'down the shore' once a week to relieve the managers; to give them a day off. I don't know if that was the case or not on this particular day. I do know that I wasn't working and I met a beautiful young girl. We hit it off right away and I could sense a budding relationship blossom as the intensity began to build. I knew she felt it, too. It was destiny... Or so I thought.
I don't think we had been conversing all that long when we went into an ice cream shop and got a couple of cones. We went back outside and sat on a sidewalk bench, close together. I was on her right. At this point in my life, I was physically coordinated enough to be able to hold a soft-serve cone in one hand, licking away, while my other arm slowly inched its way around her shoulders. Life was feeling very good. Good food. Good conversation. Good looking girl.
Good thing I was wearing shorts, too. As my enthusiasm toward our fledgling friendship continued to grow, SPLAT! A huge gob of something even warmer landed on top of my left thigh. It was a huge deposit of BIRD CRAP! It missed her, fortunately, but it wiped the mood right out of us. She began to laugh. The kind of laugh you know isn't in your favor. It must have been the biggest seabird ever!
"I'll go get napkins," she said, giggling all the way inside the store, only to return moments later with lots and lots of wet and dry paper towels. "OK, I've gotta go."
"No!" I begged, but it was too late. A 'tern' of events and off she went. The damage was done and I was left with a giant mess to clean. There was no way I could have chased after her - poop running down my leg.
Who knows what would have happened that day, but it’s safe to say a solitary bird changed my fate as I watched her disappear around the corner, most likely electing to search for another fun candidate to party with.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Doctor Dilemma


I stood and I stood and I stood and the receptionist was nowhere to be found. Finally, I heard a voice from the other window ask for my cell phone number. I gave it to her and then it rang.
"Hello?" I inquired. "Who's this?"
"This is the receptionist. You're standing at the wrong window."
"Oh." And I sauntered over to the other side. All I wanted were my special medications and I can't believe I waited so long.
When I finally walked through the door, a crowd of nurses stood by. They hugged me and patted my back. "There, there," they said, "everything will be alright, Mr. Dave..."

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Whiskey River and the 3 Marlboro Omelet

This is a piece I wrote in February, 2006, although I did edit it when I last published it in 2012 and again today. The message is the same. Times may change, but it's not always for the better. Yesterday's Chicago fiasco is a stark and sickening reminder that prejudice still divides us. This is one story, but in reality, it's not limited to one side. Winds blow in all directions.
§
When I was doing art & design work for a local printer, we had a film stripper who set up our work to make plates for the presses. He was a really good guy and we got along quite well. I was from New Jersey and he was a Florida native. A lot of people from here have a fair amount of resentment towards people from other parts of the country, especially northerners. If you were from Alabamee or Mississippa, you were OK. The northeast? Eh. Not so much.
Ron and I used to tease each other about northern and southern differences - the Civil War, the South Rising Again! That sort of thing, but it was all done in a good natured, friendly manner with no implied intent. Whenever he brought up some Yankee thing to tease me about, I always had a standard reply; one he could not defend, “Well, at least I didn’t have a hangin’ tree in my back yard.”
Ron was, by no means. He lived in Apopka, which is a relatively rural town northwest of Orlando. Plenty of the deep south has areas of racial hatred, including parts of Apopka. I’m not trying to single out any community. They’re everywhere, all across America, and most of the town is not like that, but there’s a long history steeped in racial bias and, yes, hangin’ trees that should have been chopped down a long time ago. Ain’t been no hangins’ around these here parts in a long time, yet there still exists a small faction of folks who believe the old rules of the deeply segregated south should never and shall never change.
When I moved here in 1981, I found a place in Winter Park called Harrigan’s. My sister used to work there. It’s been gone a long time now, but one of the bartenders ended up buying an established business in downtown Orlando on the corner of Orange Avenue and Pine Street called Tanqueray’s. It used to be part of a bank and housed the vault. You walk down a flight of stairs from street level, step inside, and immediately feel the warmth of the friendly crowd.
Many of the regulars from those days were professionals who worked downtown and stopped in for a drink or two to unwind and socialize. It was known as a hangout for attorneys and it always seemed to be a well mannered, intellectual group. That’s where I met John Morgan, but he has nothing to do with this story. I seldom go downtown anymore, but if I do, I try to stop by, since I’ve known Dan a long time and he always has a few good jokes to tell, plus he’s an all-around great guy.
One day, I dropped by for happy hour. I had to go into the city for some reason and, I figured, why not go see Dan. I took a seat at the bar, near the front door, and we exchanged some friendly banter. The place was quite busy, so we didn’t have much time to talk. Moments after I arrived, some guy appeared on my immediate left. Talk about rough around the edges, he didn’t quite fit in with the rest of that crowd. He ordered a draft beer and said to me, “Yup, I was at Whiskey River at 7 o’clock this morning.”
Whiskey River is a liquor store on S. Orange Blossom trail. It’s certainly not in one of the nicest parts of the city. There are a few scattered around and they have a reputation for catering to hardcore drinkers - the labor pool and unemployment collecting types who live off their pay buying cheap booze and cigarettes. That was a perfect description of this particular fellow. I have no idea why he chose me out of the crowd to enlighten, but there we were…
“Whiskey River? At 7 AM? So, tell me, what did you have for breakfast?” I asked.
“I had me a 3 Marlboro omelet,” he responded in his gruff, seasoned and rather pickled sounding voice.
“Hmm. Sounds delicious.”
“Yup. It was.” Suddenly, out of the blue, he blurted, “I’m a card carrying member of the KKK.”
“No. No way.”
“Yup.”
I had never met anyone with any sort of affiliation to a white supremacy organization. You know, you always hear stories, but have you ever met anyone like that for real? “OK. Let me see your membership card.”
“Ain’t got one. Don’t need one.”
He didn’t come across as some sort of nasty fellow. He didn’t seem to have gone in there to start trouble. I think he just wanted someone from the “big city” to talk to. Maybe, I looked slick enough. I seem to collect those types, anyway, but I don’t mind. I guess I have a friendly demeanor that people pick up on.
After telling me he lived in the outskirts of Apopka, I thought to myself, why not give the guy a chance to speak his mind. I would try to rationalize everything he says and come back with an appropriate response. I asked him how he could feel this way. How could you harbor so much hatred inside?
“They’re animals. Damn [N-WORD] are monkeys.” I think he really wanted to test me, yet I sensed sincerity in his statement and a certain curiosity on his own part, like he was questioning his own tenets; the ones I'm certain was a huge part of his upbringing.
“Animals? What if you had sex with a monkey, could you get her pregnant?” No need to question his own sexual identity.
“Nah, of course not. That’s stupid.”
“What if you had sex with a black woman, could you get her pregnant?”
“Yeah, of course.”
“Well, what you are accepting is that if black people are animals and you could get that type of animal pregnant, then you are an animal, too; a monkey. We’re ALL monkeys!"
"Uh... uh..." I don't think he knew what to say.
With every racist claim he made, I had a response. At one point, I asked him, “What if you were in a horrible accident and needed a blood transfusion? What if you later find out it was the blood of a black man? A NEGRO. AN AFRICAN-AMERICAN. What would you do? Would you try to bleed yourself out? Would you tell your card carrying KKK members that you are now tainted with the blood of an animal? Would they hang you from the highest tree?”
No responses to my queries made sense, yet he stuck around to hear everything I had to say. He didn’t necessarily agree with me, but I could tell he was grasping, if not absorbing, everything. He really WAS trying to understand the other side. I brought up the “be they yellow, black or white, they are precious in his sight” song from Sunday School days of my youth. He knew the song, but many southern racists are born into religious families that adhere to odd and distorted interpretations of the Bible, as if Jesus was lily-white and black folk dangled from fig trees.
I asked him about black heroes who had saved plenty of white hide during our nation's wars throughout the world, like WWll. A lot of us wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for good ol’ blackie, would we?
The conversation had taken on a kind of flow. It was never a heated exchange and we showed each other respect. I couldn’t judge him for his status in life, but I surely did question his morals and prejudices with a vengeance. Our discussion began to wind down without ever really unwinding. The conversation had just taken its natural course. At the end, I had one final thought.
“What if we were on a deserted island — just you, me and a really good looking black woman…” Suddenly, the door opened up and a group of very good looking women sauntered in, one of whom was black. “HER!” I exclaimed. She didn’t see or hear a thing. “What if it was just you, her and me?”
“I’d kill YOU, not HER. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.” I knew what he meant. Sex. Ain’t no way this dude was gonna go for me, Deliverance-style.
“You mean to tell me you’d kill a white man to save a black woman? Wait a minute. Doesn’t this go against your entire credo? People you’ve hated all your life? What would the KKK say about that? Kill a WHITE to save a BLACK?”
“You’re confusing me, man, you’re confusing me!” Aha! Gotcha, I thought to myself. “You know, you’re right.” he continued, “Yup, you are, but I’ll never tell my friends about it. I can’t. They’re my friends and they’d kill me.”
I guess I felt some satisfaction in thinking I had gotten through to the guy, but did I really? He had listened to enough, I reckon, and I’ll never know for sure.
“Thanks for the talk. Gotta go.” He gulped what little beer he had left and off he went.
What surprised me the most was that the patrons sitting at the bar had listened intently to our conversation, unbeknownst to me. After the guy walked out and the door closed behind him, they broke into a loud applause. They, too, thought that, maybe, just maybe, I had gotten through to him. Perhaps, I did, but I doubt it.
Occasionally, I think about the KKK man who sucks Marlboros for breakfast — the guy who went home to the hangin’ trees that still stand and sway; returned to the recollections of fiery crosses from yesteryear. I hope and pray those fires will be extinguished from our memories and that warm breezes of kinship will sweep through the minds of people like him. Gone with the wind.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

FIRST LOVE


A number of years ago, my late father found a portrait I had sketched in drawing pencil. It was a little smudged and faded, but it brought back a lot of memories. It was dated 1975. She was my first true love...
She and her parents used to come to the main Weiner King restaurant in Flemington, New Jersey. I started working there in the fall of 1968. From the moment I laid eyes on her, she was beautiful. I used to wait with anticipation for those occasional Saturdays they would come in. My eyes were always peeled. When their car pulled into the parking lot, my heart would begin to pound and I made certain I was at the cash register to take their order as they entered the front door. One day, she turned me into a nervous wreck. She came in and applied for a job.
"Please, please, Jack, hire her, hire her, please, please!" Jack Little was the best boss I ever had.
"Oh, I don't know, Dave. We don't really need anyone right now."
"You've got to, Jack! Please! Please! Please!" 
Jack was only teasing me. Of course, he hired her. It was the fall of 1970 and, boy, did I fall! On her first day, I asked her out by the French fry warmer. She said yes. We dated for many years, but this isn't a story about her and what we did together, this is a story about Valentine's Day, sometime in the mid-seventies...
When we're young, we have a circle of friends, especially at the high school level and a year or two beyond. It helps to work at the most popular place in town, too. Quite obviously, then, her friends know my friends and my friends date her friends and so on and so forth, and that's how a particular message got relayed to me when she didn't want to come right out and point blank tell me. Hint. Hint.
"Dave, she says if you don't ask her to marry you by Valentine's Day, she's going to break up with you."
Whether she really would have or not, I don't know, but I wasn't taking any chances and I knew she was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. It's just that my "hurry up" gear wasn't shifting quite as quickly as hers at the moment. Yes! Of course I wanted to marry her! 
There were two Weiner Kings in Flemington in those days. I worked at both. One was in a touristy area called Turntable Junction. Nearby was a jewelry store and the owner came by regularly for lunch.
"I need to talk to you about an engagement ring." She wasn't surprised. I think the whole town knew about the two of us.
"How much do you want to spend?" I told her the range and made it a point to visit her shop one afternoon. What did I know about engagement rings? Nothing, but I ended up purchasing a 1.25 carat teardrop diamond set in white gold. Oh, how it glistened brightly!
I've always been a practical joker, so I asked if she would sell me a cheap promise ring. This one had a chintzy diamond chip in the center that was surrounded by highly polished silvery metal. At first glance, it looked like something more. She laughed at my idea and gladly threw it in for free.
I bought several other gifts for that special day, probably cologne and, maybe, a blouse. I don't really remember. I do know that we went to dinner at a very nice restaurant. No, not the Weiner King for chili dogs with cheese and onions! After our romantic fine dining experience, we drove back to my apartment. She pretty much knew what was in store. I'm sure the word got back to her. I removed my suit jacket and her coat, we settled into the sofa and sipped good wine. Then, we exchanged gifts. I don't recall what I got because I was more interested in the engagement. When the moment was just right, I handed her a special little box, all nicely wrapped, frilly-like, and dropped to one knee. I was a modern man, but when it came to this, I was as traditional as it gets...
"Will you marry me?" I asked, as she unwrapped the box and opened it up.
"Yes!" she responded, her eyes welling up.
"I'm sorry, this is all I can afford right now."
"That's alright. I love you so much..." she said while wiping away a flood of tears. Quickly, she placed that little diamond chip ring on her finger.
"I love you very much, too. More than anything." I wiped away a few tears, too, and we hugged and kissed. We were officially engaged. We spent a very loving evening together. Hours later, it was time to take her home. She still lived with her parents. I helped her put on her coat and then donned my jacket.
"Oops, what's this?" I asked, with a surprised look on my face. Fumbling inside the pocket, I pulled out THE BOX.. "Hmm, I must have forgotten about this. Here." I softly folded it into her hand and eased her back to the living room sofa, where we sat back down. She tore off the wrapping and slowly opened the box.
"Oh My GOD!" The shock of that diamond staring up at her was almost too much to grasp. "I can't believe this."
"Look, I really wanted yellow gold, but this is what she had. Do you want me to return it for another?"
"NO!"
"How about giving that cheap one back to me. That was just a joke."
"NO! I love it!"
After more hugging and kissing, I took her home. Her parents were asleep. We kissed goodnight and off I went. I was the happiest and luckiest guy in the world.

Monday, January 11, 2016

A Tower Among Giants

My girlfriend and I were huge fans of The Beatles, the Moody Blues, the Rolling Stones and Led Zepellin back in the day. Lots more. We had very diverse tastes in music and spent a lot of money on sounds, including David Bowie. He was very cool and his persona just clicked with us. We bought The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars album and 8-track tape and played it like he was the second coming of the Rock 'n' Roll revolution. He was. In 1972, we went to see him perform at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, PA, just outside of Philadelphia. He played three dates that year: November 30 - December 2. My guess is that we went on December 2. It was a sunlit Saturday afternoon; a day I could easily have taken off work and there was no school. She would have been a high school junior then and I was a successful 30-year-old stock broker on Wall Street.
Just kidding. That would make me a lot older than I really am, and I stink when it comes to stocks and bonds. I wasn't rolling in the money; I was flipping burgers and rolling hot dogs on the grill. And we were madly in love…
I don't remember how far away from the venue we parked, but as we approached the crowd that had gathered in line, we noticed two women dressed in Victorian-style garb. I mean, like from the 1800s. Long, flowing gowns. Frazzled strands of hair almost down to their waists. When we got up close, we realized that they weren't women at all! They were men replete with big, bushy sideburns and bright, vibrant make-up. Welcome to the world of David Bowie, who attracted a diverse and sometimes strange amalgam of people with contradictory traits. Or so it seemed, but that was then.
David Bowie was different, that's for sure, but in the 1960s and early 70s, what was the norm? I grew up during a time of free love and give peace a chance. We were almost Hippies then, bucking the system. Nixon was the enemy as much as the Vietcong. We smoked our pot and drank cheap wine that 'Rippled' down our throats. We howled like Mad Dogs at the establishment. Life was good. To me, I didn't care that Bowie came out saying he was gay or bi or whatever else. Androgeny was a very alien word and world, but all of that had no effect on our eclectic tastes in music. Bowie opened up the world to much more than what John Lennon and other creative artists had to offer. Where would Gaga be today without Bowie?
When we got inside the theater, it was unlike any other venue we'd been to, and there were a few. The Tower is much wider than it is deep. As we climbed the stairs to our seats, music from "A Clockwork Orange" played over the incredible sound system. We loved that album, too, from Wendy Carlos - then Walter Carlos - the transgender grandmother of electronic music. (Think Switched-On Bach from 1968.) We sat in the loge; top front and center of three levels. When we looked down, it was almost frightful. It was a deep drop.
Eventually, Bowie came out. I don't think there was an opening act because I only remember him and his band. He was flamboyant. They were tight and loud and put on a great show. All of the Ziggy Stardust album and more. Between some of the songs, his bandmates tore clothing from the sides of his body, exposing another ensemble that fit the mood. They played on and we loved it.
And just like that, it was over. There were no Bic lighters in those days. There was no security that kept out books of matches. Maybe, we were allowed to smoke. I just know that when the band stopped playing, everyone broke out their matches and cried in vain for an encore that never came. I'm certain that by the time we all filed out, he was holed up in his hotel room somewhere in Center City, Philadelphia, staring straight into the eyes of William Penn.
We left a bit disappointed because everyone we had seen up 'til then had done encores. Over time, that was forgotten; usurped by the experience of witnessing a true curator of Rock 'n' Roll music. What we witnessed was the wee hours of a superb artist and genius. At some point, my interest waned as my tastes made ch-ch-ch-changes over the years. But there's a big but, because, I never lost my love for the early stuff and some of his newer music. On September 19, 1987, I saw him one last time in Tampa during The Glass Spider World Tour. That time, he did an encore. Still, it wasn't enough. His voice may be still, but his legend will live on and on. Too bad he won't be around to see life on Mars.

Monday, December 21, 2015

THE FUR TOPPED BOOTS

Christmas day marks six months since I lost my close friend. June 25. She wrote the following story many years ago and, just before she went away, we talked about republishing it this holiday season. It is an honor and a privilege to bring you her story. I don't know when it was written, but please enjoy it. She was a very special lady and I'm so proud to have known her...
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THE FUR TOPPED BOOTS

By Doris Willman
[Here is a story I wrote when I was a member of an Amateur Writer's Club...got 2nd prize, probably because I had all the judges in tears. lol] The Fur Topped Boots

AWC-02

Christmas was only two weeks away. As I sat by the window watching the snowflakes make their lazy descent to the ground, I was suddenly drawn into my past - to a girl of seven who was waiting for the arrival of Saint Nick. The memories came flooding back. I became that little girl again...

The snow was falling and I was thinking I could make a snowman if enough snow stayed on the ground. Snowball fights were lots of fun too, but my older brother always chucked his too hard. When I started crying, Mom would make us stop.

My dog, Patsy, was much more fun than Charlie, chasing and trying to catch the snowballs. When I went sledding, she would chase the sled and try to pull me off. If she succeeded, I would hug her and rub snow on her face.

I found Mom sitting at the kitchen table looking at the Eaton's catalogue and writing things on a piece of paper. There was a worried look on her face, almost sad at times, as Christmas drew nearer. I heard her telling Dad that there just wasn't enough money to go around. I had printed my name beside the fur-topped boots on page 32 and wondered if Mom would notice. She would be even sadder if she knew how much I really wanted those boots.

Patsy and I went outside to play in the fluffy white snow. I lay down to make an angel. Patsy tried to lick my face so I gave her a big push and she rolled over. She could make a dog angel.
When Dad came home from work, we went to the hen pen and I gathered eggs while Dad gave them clean water and wheat. I wondered which hen would be our Christmas dinner, and decided it would likely be an old one who didn't lay eggs any more. As usual, Mom would say, "How can I cook this tough old thing?", but it was always delicious with stuffing and cranberry jelly.

On Christmas Eve, I helped Mom put the pretty balls on the tree and decorate the house with red and green crepe paper chains. Some big parcels had arrived in the mail and I knew that they were filled with presents from my auntie Grace. I didn't dare snoop in them because Mom would get mad at me.

Dad said, "Santa's coming down the chimney tonight. You better get busy and write a letter to him."

Well I sort of knew who Santa was, but in case I was wrong, I thought I'd better write that letter. The light from the kerosene lamp was poor but I pulled my paper close and wrote: "Dear Santa, bring me anything you want and bring something for my brother and mom and dad. Mom will leave you gingerbread and a cup of water. Love, Sarah" Then I put my letter inside of Dad's big wool sock and set it by the tree.

That night, lying on the soft feather tick, I said a prayer to Santa. I didn't figure God would mind. I asked Santa to try and bring me the black boots with the soft fur, which were on page 32 of the big catalogue, because I hated having cold feet. When I fell asleep, I dreamed of walking in the boots on top of big snow drifts.

On Christmas morning, Charlie and I raced to get our socks from under the tree. Reaching in, I pulled out a big red apple, a large orange and some nuts, but I loved the barley toys and ribbon candy best of all.

Next came the present opening. Dad found socks in his, while Mom had some nice smelling powder and a pretty handkerchief. Auntie Grace had given me some tinker toys and a pair of mittens. Charlie was happy when he opened up the plasticene.

I emptied the tinker toys out of the can and started to put them together.

Suddenly, Mom said, "Sarah, look. There's a present still under the tree. You are the smallest, can you crawl under and get it?"

The present was wrapped in pretty red tissue paper with a big Santa Claus seal stuck to the front.

"Hey, Mom, it has Sarah printed on it!" I exclaimed.

"Well, open it up!"

I tore off the paper and opened the box. Inside were the fur-topped black boots. I took them out and rubbed the fur all over my face. They were as soft as I knew they would be.

I was so excited, I gave Mom a big hug and kiss, although I didn't understand why she had tears in her eyes. I kissed Dad and Patsy, and I even kissed Charlie.

Suddenly, the oven timer sounded and brought me back to the present, but I will always remember that Christmas and the feel of the soft fur atop those little black boots.

Monday, November 23, 2015

OK, who's going to say the prayer?

Thursday marks the day when most Yankee Doodle Dandies honor and celebrate everything they've been blessed with since the same holiday last year. We call it Thanksgiving and it's supposed to be the day we put away our family differences -- and those of our friends, too, if they're invited. We eat our fill of artificially plumped up turkey and blame L-tryptophan for falling asleep during a crucial play of the football game. While most people eat turkey, some eat lasagna or baked ham. Or, if they're vegetarian, perhaps a tasty roasted tofurkey served with celery root & sage mash and basmati rice stuffing, slathered with lentil and sunflower sprout gravy thickened with quinoa flour. Organic, of course. Me? I'm a traditionalist.
Oh... It's almost time for dinner. And you're there...

“OK, who's going to say the prayer?”
“I did it last year.”
“No, you didn't. Aunt Tessie did and she's no longer with us.”
“Oh yeah, poor Aunt Tessie...”
Someone always volunteers.
“OK, dig in!”
And the hustle and bustle of banging, clanging dishes and silverware begins...
“Could you pass the mashed potatoes?”
“They're coming around. We're passing everything clockwise.”
“Then why is the stuffing going around counter-clockwise?”
“Idiot. That's not stuffing, that's dressing. There's a difference.”
“Mom, [name redacted] called me an idiot.”
“Stop that!”
“I like white meat.”
“Oooooo, baby, I've always been a dark meat man.”
“Oh, that's so racist.”
“Hey, you know I prefer dark meat. How dare you say that! I like it because it's got a much better flavor and it's moister.”
“So is white meat if you don't overcook it, and dark meat has more fat.”
"You are so sensitive."
“So what.”
The munchfest is in full swing...
"Here's to Aunt Tessie!"
“Does anyone else like Hillary?”
“I'm all for Trump.”
“What the..?”
“No talking politics at the table, please!”
“You have to be politically correct.”
“Like hell I do!”
“Watch your language. Don't swear at the dinner table. No talking politics!”
You are, after all, in the "Safe Space" du jour, right? And you're all adults. Suddenly, the food passing is not as harried.
“Why do you always have oysters in your stuffing?”
“That's the dressing. The stuffing doesn't have oysters.”
“What's the difference?”
“Stuffing goes in the bird. Dressing is baked in the oven.”
“Oh, I didn't know that!”
“I prefer the jell...”
“Hey, what's the score of the Eagles game?”
“You mean Detroit? They've been playing on Thanksgiving long before the Eagles ever did.”
“We don't care.”
“I just know that the Panthers are going to slaughter the Cowboys. Worse than the fate of this turkey we're eating.”
“As I was saying, I prefer jellied cranberry sauce.”
“Oh, NO! It's got to be whole berry.”
“Who cares, it's all junk.”
As food is fully served, the conversations taper off because everyone has all they need and they are at peace with their plates, now savoring every bite. The room goes quiet and calm because everything is delicious. All you can hear is slight chewing, sipping, and knife blades scraping across dishes. Everyone is concentrating on the meal.
Except you. You're the smart aleck. With a stealthy slither, you slide your water glass, ever so slowly, away from your area in half inch increments. You're in a fiesty, festive mood and you've decided to take aim at your brother's placemat. This is going to be fun. He won't see you...
Between your space and everyone else's is the neutral zone in the middle of the table, the place with platters of food. If the green bean dish abuts your space, it's OK because the table is filled with a cornucopia of food. That means seconds and, maybe, thirds, but you've got to save room for pie. Every dish in the neutral zone is fine; however, if your glass touches someone else's space like their placemat? Look out! It can turn into a real border skirmish.
Inch by inch, millimeter by millimeter, you edge it closer and closer until, finally, it touches your brother's imaginary space, including his placemat! He never saw it until now. He immediately reacts.
"WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING??? THAT'S MY SPACE. GET IT OUT OF HERE! GET IT OFF MY PLACEMAT!!!"
The psychological warfare you just instigated is underway, but you merely wanted to have fun. Over the river and through the woods turned into tom turkey tomfoolery and it's no laughing matter now. Not usually one to stir the gravy, you did it anyway, and your brother wants to gobble your giblets alive.
"Hey, I was just kidding."
You try to soften things, but the damage is done.
"I have my space and you have yours. That's where it belongs. Move it NOW!"
And you promptly retreat. Oddly, it's not really his space or his placemat. Not even the glasses. You are merely guests in someone else's house. Did you infringe? You betcha!
Of course, this is pure fiction, but I have tried the glass ploy on family members and friends. Some have ignored me while others have gotten somewhat upset. But there's a point to my story. We chat, we get along, we disagree. When it comes to personal safe space, people take it, well, personally. And seriously. These private areas vary from person to person, too, yet, if something as simple as this can stir raw emotions in families, imagine what it's like in the real world, with real borders and real testosterone-laden leaders, for Crimean out loud!
Thanksgiving is a most passive holiday, one spent with relatives and friends, yet look at how easy it is to upset our own flesh and blood. How can we expect the world to see eye-to-eye, where countries willingly take property and borders away from each other with impugnity, day after day? They kill over it and don't blink.
"I'm sorry. You can have my pie."
"I don't want your pie. I can get my own."
"You guys??? Was this really worth starting an argument over?"
"OK, I'm finished. Let's go watch the game. That's where the real battle is taking place."
"Am I excused?"
You and some of the others retire to the TV room, where you vie for the best chairs. It's a subtle kind of friendly dance. You find one. Do you offer it to your brother?