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?

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Several years ago, I inadvertently stood on a fire ant mound and, before realizing it, my pants were covered with them. Thousands of them! A friend had to alert me. Many got under my blue jeans and were crawling all over my legs. They were on my arms and and one hand. I couldn’t feel them until… just like that, they virulently attacked; all of them biting me at once, in complete unison. How did they signal each other that NOW was the time? How do fire ants and other insects communicate? That’s what happened in Paris on Friday night, only it was an ‘intrusion’ of coordinated cockroaches.
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The president of France, Francois Hollande, blames Islamic State for the Paris attacks that killed well over 100 people. President Obama does not. He said, “I don’t want to speculate” on who is behind it (although German police openly stated that there were clear links between a man arrested in Germany earlier this week and Friday night’s atrocity.) Just prior to the attacks, the president asserted that ISIL was not gaining strength and that “we have contained them.”
I refuse to call this slaughterhouse gang ISIS, ISIL or Islamic State because it has no state and no country recognizes or legitimizes it. It is Daesh. It is a band of raping, pillaging, murderous thugs hellbent on returning the world to 7th century butchery. The group claims it was behind the terrorist attacks in Paris. 
What we have with Daesh is an organization the western world and its leaders clearly do not understand. We cannot rely on our intelligence agencies because they will fail us. They just failed France. Terrorists use cell phone and tablet apps that remain under the radar, just like underground tunnels. We cannot simply ferret them out. We must stand united and stop fighting among ourselves over petty issues. If this is not a hideous wake-up call, I have no idea what it will take, and a good part of the problem is that people constantly politicize everything. EVERYTHING! For instance, certain American factions still firmly believe that Obama is a Kenyan born Muslim while others continue to blame George W. Bush for the September 11, 2001 attacks. Will these same people now blame Francois Hollande for yesterday’s attacks? No, of course not. Why? Because it’s personal hatred and bitterness firmly focused on a particular person, that’s all. Obama v. Bush at the moment. It’s no wonder why there will never be peace on earth. I want to declare war on prejudice and stupidity. I read it everywhere online and see it on TV. It’s on radio talk shows. Democrats, Republicans, liberals and conservatives spew garbage in meme after meme on social media sites. We fight ourselves instead of the real enemy. We are supposed to be brothers and sisters, arm-in-arm. Instead, we are brothers and sisters, fighting over a bowl of food, paying no attention to the rabid dog stealing it out from under us.
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The following is the statement released by Daesh. What will it take to realize that we are a world at war?
In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Beneficent
Allah (ta’ala) said, {They thought that their fortresses would protect them from Allah but Allah came upon them from where they had not expected, and He cast terror into their hearts so they destroyed their houses by their own hands and the hands of the believers. So take warning, O people of vision} [Al-Hashr:2].
In a blessed battle whose causes of success were enabled by Allah, a group of believers from the soldiers of the Caliphate (may Allah strengthen and support it) set out targeting the capital of prostitution and vice, the lead carrier of the cross in Europe-Paris. This group of believers were youth who divorced the worldly life and advanced towards their enemy hoping to be killed for Allah’s sake, doing so in support of His religion, His Prophet (blessing and peace be upon him), and His allies. They did so in spite of His enemies. Thus, they were truthful with Allah — we consider them so — and Allah granted victory upon their hands and cast terror into the hearts of the crusaders in their very own homeland.
And so eight brothers equipped with explosive belts and assault rifles attacked precisely chosen targets in the center of the capital of France. These targets included the Stade de France stadium during a soccer match — between the teams of Germany and France, both of which are crusader nations — attended by the imbecile of France (Francois Hollande). The targets included the Bataclan theatre for exhibitions, where hundreds of pagans gathered for a concert of prostitution and vice. There were also simultaneous attacks on other targets in the tenth, eleventh, and eighteenth districts, and elsewhere. Paris was thereby shaken beneath the crusaders’ feet, who were constricted by its streets. The result of the attacks was the deaths of no less than two hundred crusaders and the wounding of even more. All praise, grace, and favor belong to Allah.
Allah blessed our brothers and granted them what they desired. They detonated their explosive belts in the masses of the disbelievers after finishing all their ammunition. We ask Allah to accept them amongst the martyrs and to allow us to follow them.
Let France and all nations following its path know that they will continue to be at the top of the target list for the Islamic State and that the scent of death will not leave their nostrils as long as they partake in the crusader campaign, as long as they dare to curse our Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him), and as long as they boast about their war against Islam in France and their strikes against Muslims in the lands of the Caliphate with their jets, which were of no avail to them in the filthy streets and alleys of Paris. Indeed, this is just the beginning. It is also a warning for any who wish to take heed.
Allah is the greatest.
(And to Allah belongs all honor, and to His Messenger, and to the believers, but the hypocrites do not know) [Al-Munafiqun: 8].

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Night I SCREAMED On Halloween


A number of years ago, I told my mother about the scariest Halloween I ever experienced. I was with a friend from the neighborhood. She questioned whether she would have let me venture out without her at the tender age of six. Oh, I wasn't alone, I reminded her. Besides, times were different then. We used to leave our windows open all day and night during hot summer months because air conditioning was a luxury. Screen doors were all that separated us from the outside world. Crime wasn't something that was ever present in our minds. Heck, we left our doors unlocked. It was a different time...
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It was a chilly autumn night, that Halloween of 1958. It was my first foray out alone. Well, not really alone. I was with Harold, my buddy from school. He met me at my place. We had planned on doing this, by hook or by crook, and no mothers were going to be allowed to come along! We were out to prove we were real men that night, not boys, or so I thought, as we ventured out into the early evening. Be home soon after dark, our mothers instructed.
There were lots of other children running around dressed in all kinds of costumes, stopping at many of the two story homes in our close knit community. The ones that were spookily decorated were the most inviting. Anyone willing to do all that work on their place would surely be the ones handing out the best candy!
I remember watching hand-carved candlelit pumpkins flicker with each eerie twist and turn throughout the neighborhood. Skeletons and ghosts hung from trees and porches, swaying back and forth in the cool, gentle breezes, as red and orange leaves softly fell to the ground. We spoke of ghouls and goblins and stayed away from dark alleys and back yards where we weren't supposed to go anyway, not to mention houses with no lights, because we knew what THAT meant! The monsters inside would grab us by our arms and take us down into their dank, spider-infested dungeons filled with torture devices, where we'd never, ever be seen again. Or... or... or... maybe, lights out simply meant they weren't home or didn't want to be bothered. But we weren't going to take any chances.
We were on a candy mission. I had a big grocery store shopping bag to fill up. It was brown paper with a handle. There were no plastic or paper options back then. It was paper. Those were the days when milkmen left glass bottles at your doorstep and rabbit ears or rooftop antennas were the best way to watch black & white, round-screen television sets. Color TV? Hahahahaha! We weren't rich.
For what seemed like hours, we wandered around the neighborhood. People guessed who we were. "Oh, you're little Dave, Sam & Dottie's kid."
Harold wanted to finish the night at his house. It was only fair, since we did start at mine, and I had never been there before. His place was across the street, about five houses up. When you're only six-years-old, that's quite a distance, and I wasn't crazy about venturing too far away from my world; a world that wasn't very big.
But I was brave and we had candy collection work to do.
Round and round we went. Back and forth, up and down; to the left and to the right, including places we'd never seen. We visited hundreds of homes, or so it seemed. Thousands, maybe! Eventually, we worked our way to his place. It was dark and I remembered what my mother said. We'd been out long enough, we were getting tired, and both of us had plenty of goodies to last a long time. Of utmost importance, Halloween fell on a school night and we needed our sleep.
When we arrived, we walked up the sidewalk and climbed the stairs of his front porch. The porch light was off and it was downright sinister. Pure evil was lurking about. I knew it. I just sensed it...
"Are you sure your mom and dad are home?" I asked. We knocked and, in a snap, the big, dark door swung open. There stood Harold's father.
"TRICK OR TREAT!" We screamed in unison.
"I want to see a trick," he responded. A trick? I didn't know what he was talking about. Saying trick or treat meant that I was going to get candy. That's all I knew. What was this trick thing about?
"When you say trick or treat, I can ask you to do a trick first. Then I give you a treat. Where's your trick?" he asked.
Harold and I gave each other a puzzled look and said, "Huh? Nooooo...???"
"Well, then, I have a trick for you," and just like that...
His top teeth popped far, far out of his mouth and quickly slid back in. WHOA!!!!!!!
I froze dead in my tracks and stared up at him. The glare in his eyes! Then, just like that, he did it again!!!!!!! Those teeth jutted out of his face and wiggled for a second, like they had a mind of their own, before disappearing back inside his mouth.
"AAAAIIIIEEEEE" I let out a blood curdling scream that must have awakened the dead. Today, anyone within hearing range would have called 911 on that house because of the panic in my voice. I turned to run, but, quickly, Harold's mother appeared from another room. In a snap, she came out to comfort me.
"Did you see what he did? He... he... he..."
"Yes, yes," she answered, as she wrapped her arms around me. Whatever his name was, she sure did raise her voice at him. She knew exactly what happened. "He shouldn't have done that."
Meanwhile, I could see that the guy was rolling on the floor, laughing like crazy. I didn't know what to do, but I wanted to get away from there fast while she explained what it was. "When people's teeth go bad, the dentist pulls them out. He gives you new ones so you can chew your food and have a nice smile. They come out of your mouth and you put them back in where your teeth used to be." 
Huh? I had no concept whatsoever.
She turned to him and demanded an apology. I was trying to shake off the fright and sort it all out. Why did a grown not have any real teeth? 
I doubt he ever said I'm sorry. I'm sure he continued to laugh. I'm certain I was still feeling the trauma. She must have known from the look on my face. "I'll walk you home, Dave."
There was no way I was going to walk home alone, trembling -- not after that! When I got to my door, she explained the horror story to my mother. Maybe I sensed a Snicker or two.
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All my life, I brushed my teeth in the morning and before bed, especially after eating candy bars. I remember telling my mother that I would never set foot in Harold's house again. As a matter of fact, when I looked up the street toward his place, I shuddered and turned away, yet Harold and I remained friends. He assured me he had no idea.
Before the following Halloween, we moved to another town and that was the unfortunate end of our friendship. When I was old enough to understand what false teeth were all about, I wondered how the father of a six-year-old boy could have lost his teeth so young. He couldn't have been more than thirty. Perhaps..?
He ate too much candy when he was six-years-old and didn't bother to brush his teeth.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Very Nosy Bee

Years ago, when I worked at the Weiner King in Flemington, my boss, Jack Little, would lay me off during summer months, usually some time in June. Former high school students, now in college, would come home and want to go back to work for him for two reasons: to make money and to work with their old friends and him. You see, Jack was, quite simply, the best boss ever. He would hire 3 or 4 kids in my stead and I would go off to paint houses and businesses. I made a decent living doing it, I was quite good, and it was therapeutic, so it was a win/win for everyone. Come September, I'd be back slapping burgers and dogs into buns.
One particular summer, I was painting the Weiner King at Turntable Junction, a touristy area with Colonial-style storefronts. People who worked there dressed in 1770s attire. Not at the Weiner King. Anyway, Jack's father-in-law hired me. Behind the restaurant and down the embankment are railroad tracks. An old steam locomotive with antique cars would take people on scenic rides through parts of Hunterdon County. Called the Black River & Western RR, it still runs today.
Along that embankment were countless nests of ground hornets. I remember setting empty syrup bottles out the back door and they would fill up with the darn things, but it never seemed to make a dent in their population. They pestered customers but we just couldn't get rid of them. Oh, back to my painting story...
Generally, the hornets - we called them bees - were pretty friendly unless provoked. I got used to bees and hornets from all of the outdoor work I did, and they didn't bother me at all. I had to paint an area above the patio one afternoon. Sometimes, I'd eat Weiner King food for lunch, but I got used to packing my own. I don't remember what I chose to eat that day and it's not really important, but when I decided to break for lunch, I unwrapped what I had and started to take some bites. Of course, the smell of food always attracted these little critters and I'd gently wave my hand. Eventually, they'd get the message and fly away.
Except for this one pesky guy. He just kept buzzing around me and my food. No matter how much I tried, there he was. Finally, he took the message and off he went. Or so I thought. I distinctly remember that fateful moment; the kind of moment filled with so much pain, you know you'll never, ever forget it.
I took a nice, big bite out of my sandwich and I was chewing away. Chewing and chewing and breathing through my nose. Mmmm... tasting and enjoying my lunch when, SUDDENLY, Mr. Bee decided to buzz the right side of my face. A wing brushed my cheek, and...
I sucked him right up my nose. Deep into the sinus cavity. Oh no.
I knew what was about to happen. You know, when bees get angry.
S-C-H-W-W-W-W-O-O-O-O-O-N-N-N-G-G-G!
Oh, the pain. Such excrutiating pain in my sinuses. They swelled shut almost immediately and tears flooded down my face like a gushing waterfall. This wasn't funny at all! But it was. I jumped up and tried to walk it off, pacing violently back and forth on the 6-pitch roof. That was all I could do. No ice or anything would help.
You know, it's a good thing that, as a child growing up, I got over bee stings in no time. I had a great immune system and never caught poison ivy. Without it, I would have been in serious trouble.
I would say it took about 15 minutes and then, the pain was gone. My nose opened up and I was able to go back to painting. I know I didn't finish that sandwich because I had lost my appetite.
As I continued to paint, the bees came around again, but I left my sandwich on the other side of the roof. Just for them. And me. My bee buddy never came out. I didn't swallow him. I think he ended up down in one of my lungs but by then, he was a goner. Interestingly, it wasn't long after that incident that I switched from syrup to honey on my waffles, and I've been like that ever since.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Forever the Optimist

After the water pump was replaced and everything seemed to be back to normal, I was on my way to getting my groove back, so to speak. The next morning, a nice, little, two-part jingle popped into my bean and I sat down with the iPad on my lap. Then I opened one of the piano apps.
Years ago, I would sometimes wake up in the wee hours with beautiful songs playing in my head; full orchestration and all. One at a time, of course. What always roused me was the sense that I had never heard them before. I'd promptly sit up and within seconds, the song would disappear from my mind, gone forever. Today, it would be like my brain hitting the delete button. It was heartbreaking. Now, I've got my trusty iPad by my side, so when something pops up, I can play it out and record it for future use. Sometimes, these ditties hit me when I'm in the shower or during the day. I've disciplined myself to keep playing them over and over and over in my head until I can record them. Usually, but I've lost a few here and there.
On this particular morning, the song that came to me had a real country sound, which is unusual. I can't really classify my style, but having a western theme grabbed my attention. Clint Eastwood sauntered across my head. On horseback. Before I sat down, I went into the kitchen and toasted an English muffin, continuously looping the song so I wouldn't forget it. I don't like to eat too much butter, so I put peanut butter on one slice and butter on the other. OK, ready.
I went to the trusty iPad and played out the tune. Most of the time, I have to play it and play it and play it until I have it right. Then, I record it. On that particular morning, while I'm playing it, I'm eating the muffin. I saved the butter one for last, kind of as a reward because it tastes better than the PB one. Bite. Play. Bite. Play. Bite. Play...
Suddenly, I felt something rock hard in my mouth. Not large or anything, but I knew right away what it had to be. There was nothing THAT hard in the muffin. A tooth had broken off! Which tooth? I ran my tongue across the top front of my teeth and there it was -- a hole! I had lost #7 (as the dentist later called it) right at the gum line. It's one of the ones next to the two front teeth. Immediately, I stopped what I was doing and called the dentist.
"Can you come in right away? The dentist has time to see you now." If I couldn't go right then and there, I'd have to wait five days until the next opening, so I said I'd be right in. It's only a ten minute drive. I brushed my teeth, but had one final thing to do. I know how my memory works (and doesn't) and I had to record that song. It was of utmost importance. I sat back down, hit the red record button and played. Then, I hit save and off I went.
What's most interesting about this is that the same darn tooth problem happened to someone very near and dear to me, like smiling peas in a pod. One of the peas fell out! 
Fortunately, I was in no pain, and when the dentist scraped it with one of those nasty looking shiny metal tools, "Does that hurt?" everywhere on the tooth, I didn't feel a thing. Eventually, the office manager worked up a few different options. I decided to go with the best one. The remaining root had to come out, a screw hole had to be drilled into my top jaw, and a metal post had to be put in with a wrench. Of course, I was totally numb to it as he diligently did his work. Finally, my head turned slightly as he screwed the post in. Then, he capped it off, stitched it, and built a new cosmetic tooth so I wouldn't walk around looking like a redneck hillbilly... not that there's anything wrong with that. It's just not my style. Good to go!
I was able to smile again, but when the Novacain wore off, I was in terrible pain. As days went on, the pain got worse and worse and spread to the back gum. I was in agony. The dentist gave me a prescription for Tylenol 3, which I filled and took, but it made me throw up. I also have Tramadol for migraines and bone pain (that's another story.) I don't like taking anything unless I really have to, and those pain meds raised havoc with my gut, without going into further detail. I stopped and decided that I simply had to cope with the pain.
This incident happened a week-and-a-half ago and, on Thursday, I returned to have the stitch removed. This was also the first day the pain somewhat subsided. My mouth is still sore, and I've lost five pounds, but I'm getting used to eating mashed potatoes and soup. At the end of January, the permanent implant will go in and I should be back to my old self. Except that I'm still waiting for something else in the house to break down. It's been a terrible year, not that I'm a pessimist or anything.
Oh yes, one more thing. When I came back from the dentist, I opened up the iPad to listen to the song I came up with. What was it? I forgot. OH NO!!! It was still in the "Save" mode, spinning around and around. I knew right then and there that the piano app had locked up, and I also realized that the song was gone forever. It was a good one, too, but I have to keep on smiling through and through. Because I can and...
The pea was back in the pod! Right where it belongs.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

My Garden of Weeden

By Doris Margaret Willman

After contracting polio in 1953, I faced the challenge of leg braces and crutches. By 1981, I became a wheelchair user with post-polio syndrome. By this time, my three daughters were quite self-sufficient and I had some blessed leisure time.
Coming from a family of avid gardeners, I thought, why not me too? My knowledge of gardening was quite limited, except for minor chores back home in the family garden before I acquired a disability. I obtained a copy of The Complete Vegetable Garden by John Seymore. And a very compassionate husband, fortunately for me, was handy with carpentry tools.
At first we erected four planters, measuring eight feet long and two feet wide with a depth of approximately 14 inches. These planters were supported by legs and cross braces to make an overall height of about 28 inches.
The planters were placed parallel to each other, with ample room to manoeuvre the wheelchair between each one. Each planter was filled with purchased garden soil and peat moss. A lightweight garden hose took care of the watering needs. My first crops consisted of radishes, onions, carrots, beets, Swiss chard and tomatoes.
There is an advantage to container planting: Because of the wide row system, radishes, carrots and the like can be spaced as little as two inches apart.
A good-sized crop can be harvested from a confined space. Close planting also creates shading, eliminating most weeds while retaining moisture in the soil. Most crops require tilling the soil only to a depth of eight inches. This can readily be done with small hand tools. Cucumbers, a vine crop, can be trained up five-foot poles and still be within easy reach of a gardener using a wheelchair. The height of the planters enables the wheelchair user to garden with a minimum of exertion. You are also in a position to make eye contact with any garden pests — get a jump on the flea beetle before he lands on your prized tomatoes!
My planters were so successful that my husband then built my “Garden of Weeden.” This garden is 45 feet long by 30 feet wide. With the exception of a small tool shed and gateway, two-foot-wide planters extend around the full perimeter. The central area comprises three planters measuring 10 feet by four feet, lawn space bordered with flowers, and a few small shrubs thrown in.
A wooden walkway provides sufficient space to service all planting areas. A watering hose is mounted at each end of the garden.
Unless you are a fanatic gardener like myself, a garden this size is an option rather than a necessity. Much success and pleasure can be derived from smaller ones.
I can truly say my “Garden of Weeden” has been my utopia — a place where I can get lost in the magic of nature. Stress evaporates once I wheel through that gate and am in complete control of my surroundings. I spend so much time in my garden, I expect my wheelchair tires will one day take root.
Like the saying goes, we have to “stop and smell the roses.” My philosophy is, “Let’s grow ’em!”

Friday, June 26, 2015

I Love You Doris Willman

This is written for my very special friend, Doris, who just passed away yesterday, June 25. She was an important part of my blogging during two criminal trials.

Please read it

HERE

Thank you

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Roof of All Evil

When I was around seven-years-old, I went squirrel hunting with my father. We were out in the woods somewhere in New Jersey when, suddenly, I spotted one of the critters up in a tree.
"Look, Dad!" I loudly and proudly proclaimed, pointing up into the tree at the innocent little guy minding his own business. Up went the gun...
BAM!!!
Down came the squirrel, crashing to the ground with a light thump, about twenty feet or so below. I ran over to it to see the prize. It jerked and choked and gasped for air. I looked into his eyes and watched them glaze over as he took his final breath. It was a horrible experience -- to watch death unfold. There's just something weird about looking into the eyes of something or someone as they die.
I turned to my father, visibly shaken, and said that I never want to go hunting with him again. I never did, and soon afterward, he stopped, too.
To this very day, I have never owned a gun and I have no desire to ever possess one. But that doesn't make me an anti-gun person. I've enjoyed target shooting in the past, although it's been many years. I totally abhor shooting animals for game, but I'm not opposed to hunting for food. After all, I am a meat eater and I seem to look the other way when it comes to how chickens, for example, are treated by food giants like ConAgra and their many subsidiaries. I am trying to be more conscientious when it comes to the humane treatment of animals. Humane. How could you possibly show compassion or benevolence toward a creature whose sole purpose from birth on is to become food? That's a question to chew on, but I won't dwell on it right now since this is partially about guns, Charleston, and the Second Amendment stating that "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
I'm not here to argue the rights and wrongs of gun control, but I do agree with the president (and anyone else who thinks) that we need to have a vigorous and rigorous debate regarding how easy they are to purchase. I'm not stupid enough to feel the necessity to take guns away because some people want it that way. Guns will always be around and there's no denying it. I think a minimum/mandatory sentence imposed on someone caught with an illegal firearm is something to consider, like 25 years. No parole. That may help to get them off the street, but it wouldn't have stopped Dylann Roof from mercilessly slaughtering nine people inside of a House of God. He bought his legally. It was a simple thing to do. Too simple in some states.
(There's some question about Roof's gun purchase. Federal law prohibits people like Roof from obtaining firearms because, in February, he was arrested and later charged with felony possession of Suboxone, a narcotic prescription drug. He was released, and the case is pending. Because of this, Roof shouldn't have been able to buy from a gun store. Federally licensed gun dealers are required to run background checks and this pending charge would have turned up as a red flag. According to his uncle, Roof got his pistol as a birthday present from his father, Reuters reported. No background checks are necessary in private transactions in South Carolina and the seller is not obligated to ask about felonies or felony indictments, although it is illegal to give guns as gifts to those people. If Roof's father knew about the indictment, he could spend 10 years behind bars.)
Unfortunately, there's no way to stop the crazies of the world from doing what they set out to do, and Roof is a perfect example of that and more. While I'm against the death penalty, this guy deserves to be snuffed out, with no grave or marker of any kind to identify him. He is evil through and through and he is proof positive that racism is pure evil, even in its simplest form. Nothing good ever comes out of evil. Ever.
What Roof did should open a debate about guns and rightly so; however, I'm hearing some disturbing things about this terrorist attack on humanity. Anyone who thinks this wasn't terrorism should think about the terror in the eyes of Roof's victims as he fired away. That was terror in its rawest form.
So what does a National Rifle Association executive in Texas have to say about it? Houston-based attorney Charles Cotton suggested that the murdered pastor of the church bears some of the blame for his opposition to permitting concealed handguns inside his house of worship. On TexasCHLForum.com, he insanely, absurdly wrote about the pastor of the church and South Carolina state senator Clementa Pinckney:
"[Pinckney] voted against concealed-carry. Eight of his church members who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church are dead. Innocent people died because of his position on a political issue."
Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee stated:
"It sounds crass, but frankly the best way to stop a bad person with a gun is to have a good person with a weapon that is equal or superior to the one that he’s using.”
Does this mean we should ALL carry guns (me included) or face the consequences of evil people? Well, kiss my grits!
What I find abhorrently wrong with those two statements is that Roof entered a House of God with a gun. I'm sorry, but I think a church is a sanctuary; a place to go for solace and peaceful introspection -- something Root should have been doing. A church is a place to study. It should be the last place on earth to worry about violence. While a lot of Americans think it's an inherent right to mix God and guns, I think it's ridiculous. One does not need to believe in guns, nor God, to understand how opposite the two are, like night and day. One brings life into the world and the other takes it away. Unless, of course, you shoot targets in church or take out squirrels from the rafters.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

THE GEORGE ZIMMERMAN DUMP

Last Monday, January 5, George Zimmerman supposedly threw a bottle of wine at his erstwhile girlfriend after she broke up with him and attempted to flee his house, where she had been living for the past two to three months. Apparently, he demanded that she return one of his paintings and an argument ensued. He threw her cellphone to the ground, smashing it to pieces. Sound familiar? She called him a psychopath, which infuriated him to no end. After she left, she was pulled over by Lake Mary police for not having her headlights on. A nearby officer had heard the sound of glass breaking. She was a total wreck, panicking and crying. The reason, just in case you're not aware, why Zimmerman wasn't arrested the night of the alleged incident is pretty simple.
When police went to his house to investigate that night, the hot-tempered cop-wannabe was nowhere to be found. All week long investigators attempted to contact him, to no avail. He wasn't home and he refused to answer his phone. It wasn't until Friday that police found him at his residence, but he refused to come to the door or respond to phone calls for nearly two hours, and that was only after his attorney, Don West, was contacted. From what I understand, police could hear someone quiet the dog from inside the home prior to answering the door. He was then placed under arrest and charged with aggravated assault. Sadly, the victim claimed she didn't want to pursue charges against him on the night of the incident, and she still doesn't. Why? More on that, but...
Saturday morning, he easily bonded out after Circuit Judge John Galluzzo set it at $5,000. He was ordered to turn his guns over to a family member or friend and to stay out of Volusia County, where the woman now resides. He's still in Seminole. He cannot have any contact with her, either. True to typical Zimmerman form, he denied everything. She threw the wine bottle at the garage door after he refused to let her in. Her five-year-old son was the one who broke her phone long ago. He dumped her, not the other way around. Sound familiar? Nothing is EVER his fault. Poor boy, and you know something? He's going to get away with it again. Why?
The victim is refusing to cooperate with investigators and the prosecutor's office. There's a simple reason for that, so don't misunderstand or condemn her. George Zimmerman is toxic, to say the least. She wants nothing to do with plastering her name all over every newspaper and TV station across the country, including TMZ and whatever gossip show picks up on it. Would you? Odds are, Zimmerman would get away with it anyway, since he always does. After all, like OJ, his name is synonymous with 'getting away with murder,' and after calling him a psychopath to his face, she's got to be frightened to death of him now.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

No Baloney

I was shopping in a grocery store the other morning. It's one of those chains with a decent variety of organic foods. Sometimes, I like that kind of stuff. Sometimes, some of it is rather silly. Take this, for instance. While looking at the bread selections, I happened to see organic hot dog rolls. ORGANIC HOT DOG ROLLS???!!! Huh? What do you put inside a hot dog bun? HOT DOGS!!! What's good and healthful about hot dogs? No... please don't tell me about vegetarian weiners because they are probably as exciting as sex with blow-up dolls. What's the point?
It reminded me of a car I saw with my friend, Stewart, in the Sarasota area a while back. We were sitting at a red light. VROOM! VROOM! Or was it ZHHH! ZHHH!? It was a Toyota Prius Sport. SPORT???!!! We laughed. For some reason "Prius" and "Sport" go together like salt and sugar, and "organic" and "hot dog," don't you think? Anyway, I don't believe we'll be seeing any Prius Sports on the NASCAR circuit any sooner than I'll be eating a vegetarian hot dog on an organic bun. With ketchup.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Whiskey River and the 3 Marlboro Omelet

This is a piece I wrote in February, 2006, although I did edit it a little the last time I published it on Dec. 27, 2012 because my writing style improved. Today, I left it intact.
Here we are, eight years after this story, and where are we? I see more racism now than I did in 2006, and I see it on both sides of the fence. If anyone thinks it's a one-way street, they are blind to society. 

When I was doing 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 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, 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 time, 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 was standing to 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. Such was 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 and have so much hatred inside?
“They’re animals. Damn n*ggers 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 he was most likely raised on.
“Animals? What if you had sex with a monkey, could you get her pregnant?”
“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 a monkey, too. You are an animal. We’re ALL animals.” He had no smart answer.
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 and found out later you now have the blood of a black man inside. A BLACK MAN. A NEGRO. AN AFRICAN-AMERICAN. What would you do? Would you try to return it? 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 much sense. He didn’t necessarily agree with me, but I could tell he was grasping, if not absorbing, everything we were discussing. 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 olive trees.
I asked him about black heroes who had saved plenty of white hide during the war, World War II in this case. A lot of us wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for good ol’ blackie.
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 question to ask.
“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, looking right at her. 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.” 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 the door and it shut 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 that was then…
Occasionally, I think about him — the KKK man who sucks Marlboros for breakfast — the guy who returned to the hangin’ trees that only sway in the wind these days; back to the recollections of fiery crosses from days gone by. I hope and pray those days will one day be burned from all of our memories forever and that warm southern breezes of kinship will sweep through the minds of people like him everywhere. Gone with the wind.
We can still have a dream, can’t we?

 See it HERE or: