Friday, July 29, 2005

Bacon & Entering

The server went down. I called Sprint, our ISP, and talked to a technician. He told me how his wife woke up one morning and said, "You know, you were taking service calls in your sleep last night." It kind of reminded me of my old boss, Jack Little, from the restaurant days.

We started serving breakfast after many years of just lunch and dinner, and of course, the night crowd. A bacon & egg sandwich was abbreviated as B&E. One night, in the wee hours of the morning, Jack's phone rang. It startled him out of a deep sleep.

"Yes, we want to report a B&E," the voice on the other end stated.

"Why are you calling me at 3 o'clock in the morning to order a bacon and egg sandwich?"

"No, sir. This is the Flemington Police Department. We want to report a B&E."

"What are you talking about?"

"Your business was broken into. We want to report a breaking & entering."

"Oh. Be right over."


Monday, July 25, 2005

The Bible Can Be Interpreted In Many Different Ways. Try The King Don Version...

There was an establishment I used to stop by once in a while for a refreshing cocktail beverage in Winter Park, Florida. It was called the FBI, short for Fairbanks Inn. Weekend nights they had bands play and some moshing took place. Years ago, we would have called it a dance floor. They called it a pit. That was at night. We were all happy hour types and not into that crowd at all. You'd run into all kinds of people during the day, white collar, blue collar, and plenty of those who had no collars at all. Lawyers, doctors, construction company owners and bums. The place had been in existence for a long time. Over the years, I must have loaned uncounted amounts of $10 bills to people I knew there. Most of the time I'd get them back.

An older fellow who used to frequent the place was quite the character. Most would say he was definitely "different." We called him "Loudmouth Don" because he was, well, very loud. And opinionated. Extremely opinionated to the point that if he got into talking about something he didn't like, no, check that, despised, his face would turn red and the veins in his neck would bulge out, arms flailing away, spewing quotes from the Old Testament. Those somethings he didn't like generally were about (not me saying this) n*ggers and Jews. Hated 'em with a passion. This was coming from a man who went to church faithfully every week. Praise the Lord and pass me the hangin' rope.

Don must be in his late seventies now, but, he's always been in good health and is stronger than a bull. I rarely see him anymore, but, aside from his quirks, I genuinely like him and thought naively that somehow, someday I could change him. One time, he was off on one of his tirades and I challenged him, "OK, Don. You find me somewhere, anywhere in the Bible, the word n*gger and I will drop all of my beliefs and conform to your religious and political views for the rest of my life. Go ahead. Find it anywhere in the Bible. If you don't find it, then would you please refrain from using it so loosely?"

"Well, %@#%&*!, I'm gonna find it!"

I guess taking the Lord's name in vain is all right to a man with an extremely limited vocabulary when in a state of agitation.

I stopped in the following week. He wasn't there, but, my friend Tony was. Tony's a pretty smart guy. He told me Don had found the "N" word in the Bible. I said, no way. He said "Yes sir, Dave. I saw it myself. Don was all excited and went on and on about how he got you. He said, Dave thinks he's so smart, I'll show him."

I said, "No way, Tony."

He said, "Dave, I saw it myself."

I don't know how many days later it was when I had that all omnipotent run in with Don and his King James Version. All bright eyed and excited, he screamed, "I gotcha, Davey!" He liked to call me that. Veins were popping everywhere. Immediately, he opened the good book to where he had so carefully placed a marker. Between the two sides of scripture on a page, some Bibles have a reference area called the concordance that directs you to verses.

He pointed to the word. "I found it all over the place. There it is. Look at it!!!"

Yup. I read it. Right in plain view was THE WORD.


I said, "Don, no, no, no, that's a river. The Niger River. N-I-G-E-R. It's also a country in Africa. And there's Nigeria. The word you're talking about is a derogatory term. It has two Gs in it." He didn't know what derogatory meant.

"Well, it sure does look like it to me."

I explained as best I could how terms come into existence, like Florida "crackers" from the crackling sound of their whips as they round up the herd. I gave him several examples, all of which I thought he could relate to in some way or another. He calmed down and didn't quite seem to get the entire gist of it. But, he was OK and I didn't have to give in and adhere to his strict and twisted beliefs. Whew.

In any event, I don't know if Don really learned anything from that conversation, but, I sure did. I learned that Tony wasn't the best speller in the world.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

What Do We Do?

I have Egyptian friends. They left that country because of religious persecution. They are Orthodox Christians and were treated as second or third class citizens living there in a Moslem society. They owned a grocery store in Orlando and sold some of the best meats you could buy and I dare you to ever find hummus and stuffed grape leaves that were more delicious than what they made. I used to make a marinade I sold in stores. They were gracious enough to allow me to mix and bottle it in their store since I needed an inspected kitchen to produce it. I know, living here, there is prejudice, too. I have heard people say they wouldn't shop there because they are dirty Arabs and a few other choice descriptions. How sad. And I would have a few choice words of my own to say back. Sami and Samia are the salt of the earth. They have two children, all grown up now. They were born in this country. That makes them as American as me. Their son went to the University of Florida. A lot of Latino students would go up to him and speak Spanish, assuming he was Puerto Rican because of his skin being a little darker than your average Swede. He always got a kick out of it, but, wondered how people could prejudge him that way. He'd speak Arabic in return to really confuse them.

Since the attacks in London, two families of the suicide bombers have come forward to apologize for their sons' crimes. I've heard a lot of reaction from some of my American friends and what I've heard in the media, much of which is not on the kind side. All Arabs are alike and you can't trust any of them. I mention my friends, Sami and Samia, and they say, "Well, OK, there might be an exception." Might be? I look at those families and the disgrace they must live with for the rest of their lives. What about Sami and Samia? They are so generous. Suppose some sort of Al Qaeda cell got to one of their children. Suppose they weren't Christian, but Moslem instead. There is no law against that. Would Sami and Samia be horrible people now? They are the nicest people you could find and have nothing but contempt for terrorists and their kind. I can look at those families in England and sense how they must feel. This is not how we brought our children up, they say. I am sure they mean it. These criminals were born and raised in England. Native sons. One of the families owns a bakery in London. Did he set up shop there to watch in horror as his son committed a most heinous crime, so his business would fail?

I hear there are 1.2 billion Moslems in the world. They can't possibly be all bad. I understand that perhaps a solid 1% of those are terrorists. That means there are about 12 million people who want to see you and the rest of us around the world dead. That's a lot of nasty people out there, looking to blow you up or chop off your head. But, that also means 99% aren't like that. This majority needs to take a very good and deep look at themselves and their neighbors. They need to weed out these villains who would take their children away to blow themselves up along with as many as they can take with them. They need to throw out their clerics who preach violence. How many old men and women are suicide bombers? These jihadists seem to go after the youth, to indoctrinate them at a very early age. Does this not constitute child molestation of some kind? They are raping their minds and murdering their souls. Isn't this something for the parents to reflect upon?

Since September 11, 2001, there seems to be a sort of de facto prejudice. Where blacks or African Americans, if some prefer, were held in low esteem to many around this country, they seemed to have moved up the American social scale, usurped by people of Arabic origin and of the Moslem faith. What a poor excuse for rising up the ladder and an even poorer excuse for prejudicing over a billion more people, many born and raised right here at home and in other unsuspecting countries. Did the blacks really rise up the ladder or was there just another rung added below it?

Monday, July 18, 2005

What's Left?

Unfortunately, I'm one of those left-handed persons born into a right-handed world. It wasn't my fault. "Oh, yeah," the relatives would say, "wasn't Great Uncle Claude or so and so left-handed?" Oh well, that's me and I'm stuck with it. I'm not here to complain much, mind you. It's been interesting all my life to adjust to the "right" side of things. I guess it would depend on where I was brought up, too. If I were born in Israel or China, I'd write from right to left instead of left to right. I'll tell you, 3-ring binders are no fun to left-handers. That's why a lot of us write halfway upside down. To avoid the binder rings. I suppose if I were born in England or Japan, I would be driving on the other side of the road and be able to shift with my left hand. Maybe that's why we do it the other way here. To spite the British. Maybe our auto manufacturers wanted to please all of the right-handed signers of the Declaration of Independence who hated anything English. They didn't realize that one day we'd have a long succession of left-handed presidents, from Gerald Ford through Bill Clinton, except for Jimmy Carter, who I think could sign a bill into law while cracking a peanut shell with his left hand. Pretty much everywhere else in the world they drive like us. Maybe we got it from them. So much for Yankee ingenuity, if that's the case.

I used to part my hair on the left side. Back when I had hair. Now, I just have a giant ambidextrous part in the middle of my head. Usually, I could focus on famous personalities and tell people what hand they use by which way they part their hair. That is, until the Hippie movement became vogue and everyone had long hair and parted it down the middle. Now, they're old and bald like me.

When I was in first grade, the teacher took the pencil out of my left hand and told me to use my right. I yelled "NO!" and she never bothered me again. My second grade teacher tried to pull the same shenanigans with the same emphatic answer in return. This was a public school, but, back in the fifties, there was still that superstitious element of left-handedness being some sort of mark of the devil or something like that. At least, by the time I was ready to graduate 8th grade, the teachers had learned their lesson and rightfully chose me over John Bixby to design the yearbook cover. So there, John. You always thought you were a better artist until then. Too bad you were right-handed.

Some things are awkward. I never quite got the gist of how to use scissors. Almost forever, the handles were angled to slide the right hand in to fit comfortably. Oh, I guess I can use them now, but not as well as you right-handers do. I can cut with the precision of a surgeon with a No. 11 Exacto blade, though. Doors can be a small problem. You never think about revolving doors, for example. It would be easier for me to push on it and spin to the left. Hmmm.

When I was young, we didn't have much money. I know, there are plenty of stories out there. But, I would always get the hand-me-downs. Clothes I had no problem with. Whenever I played softball with the neighborhood kids, or in school, I had to borrow my brother's glove. It was a left-hander's, which meant it fit on his left hand so he could throw with his right. I had to yank it off to be able to throw. My game improved dramatically when one of my grandfathers got me the right one. Or do I mean left one? Oh well, never mind. Later on, when I was in the Jaycees, we played ball games with the Rotary Club, the PBA, and whoever else we could conjure up for a keg of beer. I pitched many of those games. Struck out a few, too, and that's pretty difficult since it's just lob pitching. These guys would tell me the ball would do all sorts of different things. It would wobble to the left, then right. It would go up, down, and then up again. I could see it sometimes. They hated me. Same thing with bowling and shuffleboard. "You left-handers are weird," was not an unusual comment to me. I took it with pride. I think my favorite outdoor activity was Frisbee, though. That's the only real game where everybody wanted me on their team. I was always the first one picked. We would have teams of, maybe, 5-7 players each. Depended on who all showed up. We'd toss the Frisbee back and forth. If you didn't catch it (with one hand only) the opposing team would get a point. I could make a Frisbee dance and practically sing back then. Skip, do whatever I wanted. The main reason I was so desirable, though , was that the Frisbee spun in the opposite direction. Hard and fast. I would always get to throw it and rack up, at least, the first 7 points of the game because no one could catch it until they got used to the spin.

One time, years ago, I noticed that the NBC peacock logo had been redesigned. "That was done by a left-handed artist," I said to anyone who would listen. "Oh, how do you know, Mr. Smartypants?" I would tell them the face of the peacock now faces right. The old ones always faced left. Whenever I have done portrait work, it is easier for me to angle the face more toward the right. Much easier to draw.

As a minority in the world, I have never heard of an organization like Left-Handers United or the National Organization for the Preservation of Left-Handers. How come? Don't we rate? Or don't we care? Maybe, it's because WE NEED TO STAND UP FOR OUR RIGHTS! just won't work in our case.

To this day, I still get people who have known me for years that will exclaim, "I didn't know you were left-handed!" as if it is a shocking discovery. They always mean well. Generally, they qualify it with a "no wonder you're so smart" or a "no wonder you're so good at art" type of compliment.

How right they are.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

He Gave The Finger To His Garage Door

I'm not one to laugh at others misfortunes, but, sometimes, life's experiences are just too painfully funny to pass by.

I have a friend, Dave, who is an intelligent, successful business man. He's in his late fifties, so, he's been around the block and back a time or two. One morning, recently, he opened his garage door to take the garbage out by the roadside. Now, mind you, this was at 5:30 in the morning and your brain is not quite up to speed yet. After he told me the story, I said, "Dave, that's what you get for being so cheap with yourself." He said, "No, Dave, that's what I get for procrastinating," after I asked him why he never installed an electric garage door opener. It's the kind with a handle at the bottom you just lift up after you've unlocked it from the inside. So, down the driveway he goes, taking his garbage container out for an early morning stroll. Brush off hands, walk back up and close the garage door, right?

Well, it didn't quite work out that way. He had grabbed the handle and pulled it down. You know, it never quite goes all the way down, so, instead of bending down or using his foot to push it shut, he just reached in between one of the slats and...

...forced it shut. Now, remember, these slats are on a track and as they come downward, they fit tightly into each other.

All of a sudden, this excruciating pain shot through the middle finger of his right hand. Instinctively he pulled it back and looked in horror at his hand. The tip of his finger just above the first joint was gone. Crushed. He opened the door with his other hand and pulled out his flattened fingertip. After rushing inside, he carefully put it on ice and raced to the nearest emergency room. "There's nothing we can do. We can't sew it back on. It's been crushed," the doctor told him. Yup, flattened like a pancake with strawberry syrup. The fingernail still looked good. So, they had to take snippers to re-form his jutting out bone to make it more rounded so they could close up what remained. 18 stitches. He went home, not quite feeling like the whole man he once was. I think he took the rest of the day off.

Today, he pretty much laughs at it. He says, "You know, that was about the most stupid thing I've ever done. I just wasn't thinking. And, even better, when I pulled away in pain, I tore the darn thing off." Not that they could have saved it anyway, but it did save the cost of amputation.

Monday, July 11, 2005

I'll Show You Mine, If...

When I lived in New Jersey, I spent most of my years in the restaurant business. I had been doing freelance art and design work for a few years because I really enjoyed art. I dabbled in oils, pastels, pen & ink, charcoal and pencil work. I did mostly landscapes, portraits, technical renderings and I just loved designing ads for newspapers and magazines.

I decided to move to the Orlando, Florida area since my folks lived there. I was tired of the restaurant trade and I figured since I had no real experience in the advertising design world, It would be easier to get a job at an ad agency down there than in New York. Then, after a year or so, I'd go back and set New York City on fire with my mega ideas and talent. It never did work out that way.

I answered an ad in the Orlando Sentinel soon after I moved. This place was looking for a hardline and layout artist. It was for a department store chain. My portfolio consisted of mainly portraits, landscapes, technical drawings and ads I had designed for restaurants and other businesses.

During the interview, the woman who questioned me said, "This is really nice stuff, but, it doesn't have anything to do with what we do here."

I had to think fast. I said, "Give me something. Let me show you what I can do."

She said, "Alrighty, then," and proceeded to set me up with a project. No art, but, I had to do a fictitious ad layout that would appear in the local paper. I told her I'd be back the next day with it. I took my work home and scanned the Yellow Pages for a nearby printer with access to a copy machine. I measured the various ad sizes in the newspaper. I formulated a design and set about to put it all together. Back then, glue sticks sure did come in handy. Computers were still years away. It was all cut & paste.

The next day, I went back. Of course, I called first. They liked what I had done and said, "We'll get back to you." And sure enough, they did. The following week they called me in for a second interview. They said that even though my credentials didn't quite fit what they did there, they liked my attitude and the design I did. Most importantly though, they told me that out of the thirty some people they interviewed, I was the only one who said, "Let me show you what I can do." They hired me right then and there, and there I remained for the next eleven years.

The reason why I never made it back to New Jersey? Soon after I got that job, I started dating a really pretty blonde with a tan. I was very happy right where I was. Welcome to Florida.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Saving Solemn Freedom

It is very seldom that I would ever proffer my opinion here, but, I feel compelled to do so. Let me first state that you will never find a more peaceful person anywhere. I have never owned a weapon of any kind. I have no desire to ever own one, and I never will. I am tired of the confusion going on in our country right now.

When I was a freshman at Hunterdon Central, in Flemington, NJ, the history department collaborated with the old Hunterdon Theater to show all high school history classes a special screening of Gone With The Wind. It was, in effect, an effort to show us what transpired during the Civil War years, albeit, Hollywood style. One morning we went to watch it. Back then, any chance to go on a field trip to get out of school was very desirable. I'm sure times have not changed in that respect. I remember it was a very powerful movie, depicting life in the south before, during and after the Civil War. In spite of the fact that it was more of a love story, it did show the horrors of war in graphic detail. Certainly very graphic for 1939 when it made its theatrical debut.

It reminds me of an incredible movie I recently saw, Saving Private Ryan. I cannot think of any other movie of this magnitude that could possibly represent the atrocities of war in more gruesome detail. The last time I had seen it was when it came out in 1998. It was chilling.

During World War II, on November 13, 1942, the light cruiser, USS Juneau, was sunk by Japanese torpedoes. Five Sullivan brothers were on board and none survived. Since that incident, the U.S. military changed the rules. No brothers were assigned to the same ship, nor were in the same unit ever again. In the case of Saving Private Ryan, a fictional account, three out of four brothers were killed in action and an all out effort was made to bring the surviving brother home, to perpetuate the family structure. After securing Omaha Beach from the Germans, a captain was given a new assignment. He and his hand picked squad were sent to find and save Private Ryan from somewhere deep behind enemy lines in France.

What makes this movie so powerful is the realism of the film's battle scenes and the all too real degree of sacrifice our soldiers dedicated themselves to. Over 9,000 American men were lost in a single day between the beaches of Normandy and Omaha in France on June 6, 1944. What compelled these men to drive forward? An intense respect for freedom and the never ending urge to protect it at all costs? To keep our lands safe from foreign intruders bent on the destruction of what we hold near and dear to our hearts? Of course. Men of all persuasions fought and died there and in both the European and Pacific theaters of World War II. Blacks, whites, Indians, Christians, Jews, Muslims. Death sensed no prejudice. In victory, Europe and the United States remain free.

"I fear that we have awakened a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve," Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto stated on December 7, 1941, after the attack against the United States at Pearl Harbor. He was right. Today, we are in a war of a different sort. After the 2001 attacks on our own soil, most Americans sought revenge. We all knew who did it. They tried to take the World Trade Center down in 1993. We laughed in the face of terrorism then when it didn't succeed. You will never destroy us, we said, you will only make us stronger. Yet, we did nothing. This war does not play by the old rules. Here, there are no rules. What civilized group purposely kills thousands of innocents, chopping off heads along the way? The old rules went down with the World Trade Center.

There are people today, in this country and abroad, who feel it was a travesty to drop atomic bombs on the two cities of Japan. That war was going nowhere fast. Did the war stop after that? You bet. Were many lives lost as a consequence of those bombings? Of course, but were many lives saved? Although impossible to count, it is certainly true that untold thousands went on to see the light of day for years to come. Don't let anyone kid you, the Japanese were on the verge of creating their own bomb. They would have used it against us. Anyone who thinks otherwise is extremely naive or stupid or both. For what other purpose would they have it? To dangle in front of us in awe? I don't think so. Remember, they were the aggressors to begin with.

As the Vietnam war era was coming to a close, many facets of the world looked to the United States from a standpoint of weakness. There was total discord at home. We were a nation in confusion. We were getting out of Vietnam in a not so honorable way. We had a president who was fighting his own personal demons. In the meantime, our soldiers came home in humiliation, not as war heroes they certainly deserved to be treated as. It was an unpopular war and we as a nation took it out on them. How unjust and unkind, coming from a nation willing to forgive and forget. Well, we did forget them. The rest of the world saw this and many construed it as a sign to attack. Not in a physical sense, but more of a "kick a dog when he's down" sort of way. Many tried to take advantage of this. It opened the floodgates that fostered terrorist groups. We were in no position to retaliate in any form. We had no stomach for it. We were in internal turmoil. We were no longer the international police force looked up to and admired. We came back strong when Gerald Ford healed our nation from strife. We felt whole again. But, not for long. Along came Iran and the hostages. This came about from years of fomentation over the U.S. stance of propping up dictatorships around the world, including the Shah of Iran. It was the quintessential bursting of the proverbial bubble of American superiority and impenetrable strength. Along with it came fanatical festering, much of it generating from the middle east and some from home. Militant groups looked at the U.S. government from a standpoint of no longer being in control of itself. "Let's go, we got 'em now!" (I always wondered what the outcome would have been with those hostages in Iran had Jimmy Carter not negotiated into the final hours of his presidency. Would the government of Iran have let them go anyway for fear of the incoming president, Ronald Reagan, and his cowboy image of shoot first, ask questions later?)

How quickly terrorists adhere to their own brand of hellfire when it suits their own political agenda. Much of it has its roots deeply based in religion. They interpret their scriptures to fulfill their own destinies. What difference does it make whether quoting from the Bible or Quran, in order to use it as an excuse to blow up federal buildings or abortion clinics, or to fly into buildings or blow one's self up, killing as many as humanly possible? They are interchangeable. When Christians want war, they quote from the Old Testament. When they want peace, the New Testament provides the proper scriptures. Islamic tenets tend to be the same way.

We have gone through years of torment and death at the hands of these terrorists. Not just Americans. People from all walks of life have felt the anguish of murder and destruction. On an international level, many feel that "if" we just give up on Israel, for example, to let them fend for themselves, the Islamic terrorists would go away and leave us alone. That is, by far, one of the biggest ideological con jobs perpetuated by man in my lifetime and a sure sign of real weakness. We should cower to bullies? Even if we did that and sucked up to these lowest forms of life, we would somehow, by the grace of Allah, live in perfect harmony? Offer a vicious pit bull a steak and it will take your arm along with it. Once it smells blood, it will go in for the kill. Try to teach that old dog a new trick. Do we then destroy all the pit bulls of the world? No. Many are good, harmless and faithful. It is only the ones born and bred into violence we need to worry about. But how do we distinguish between the two? That's a pretty tough call. Some say we should just nuke 'em all. How ludicrous. I'm not going to separate my head and destroy my body because of a cancerous mole on my knee. Let's just drop bombs and wait for the nuclear fallout to waft its way back to us. There are always simple solutions to people with simple minds who do not understand the complexities of the world. Instead, what if neighbors weren't afraid to get involved more? How often we see interviews on the news of neighbors who say, "I knew they had bad dogs over there," after a neighborhood child has been mauled to death. Why didn't you get involved earlier? Was it not your problem, too? Maybe not, until you lost your own child. You saw the potential for impending problems, didn't you?

Now, we are in a war with no rules. We might play by our own set, but, the adversaries do not. We bring our men and women to their turf and they rejoice in the fact that it is so much easier to blow themselves up along with us now. They don't need to come to us. We go to them. But, if you believe they won't come to us again, forget it. No olive branch or promise of leaving their lands will ever prevent that. Ever. What made us so evil and why would you ever remotely agree with that perception? Why would you feel guilt while the rest of the world is innocent? Where is your national pride and self esteem? It is of utmost importance to show the world our unity in this conflict. We do not all agree with what we have gotten ourselves into. Many people do not agree with the president and there are thousands of opinions from all sides of the fence, but, we must stand tall. If world perception of us is that of the gun-toting cowboy, then let's be that gun-toting cowboy. It doesn't mean you agree with it, but, it is the surest way to resolve. We must stand united. We are in a mess, a quagmire of sorts, and we are not going to walk away from it. We are stuck with it. It's fine to agree to disagree, but to show the world our internal struggles, we will be perceived as weak once again and that will fester more terrorism at home and abroad. These people are like a cancer. We have brilliant minds. Let us take our minds and try to find cures and answers for its causes. Let's cut out the cancer cells at its source. There are thousands upon thousands of benign virgins awaiting them.

Terrorists have no belief in turning the other cheek. It is a sign of weakness. To do so offers another spot to wreak havoc. And another chance to laugh. I want to laugh back one day, with the premier of a new movie, Gone With The Desert Wind.

Peace One Day.