Friday, February 24, 2006

White House 2007

I'm not trying to be political here. I can't say I'm for or against the port takeover deal by the government owned United Arab Emirates company. Much more has to be learned.

My sister-in-law, Lindsay, had an interesting observation on this subject: "The ports are on water, run by Longshoremen. The UAE is an oil rich nation. Everyone knows that oil and water don't mix."

I don't feel we should turn over any operation that involves U.S. security to any Arab nation that has not signed a peace agreement with Israel.

Whiskey River and the 3 Marlboro Omelet

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. Ron and I used to tease each other about northern and southern differences - the Civil War, the South Rising Again! and other issues. 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 have 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, at least, back when I had opportunities to go, were professionals who worked downtown and stopped by for a drink or two to unwind and socialize. It was known as a hangout for lawyers and it always seemed to be a well mannered, intellectual group. I don't go downtown very often, but if I do, I try to stop by, since I've known Dan a long time and he usually has a few good jokes to tell.

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 and we exchanged some friendly banter. The place was pretty busy, so we didn't have much time to talk. Next thing I know, some guy is standing to my immediate left. Somehow, 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, in Orlando. Not 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 seldom employed types who live off their daily paychecks to buy booze and cigarettes. Such was this guy. I have no idea why he chose me out of the crowd to enlighten.

"So, what did you have for breakfast?" I asked.

"I had me a 3 Marlboro omelet."

"Hmm. Sounds good."

"Yup," he responded and then went on to say, "I'm a card carrying member of the KKK."

"No. No way."


I had never met anyone with any type 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. After all, he told me he lived in the outskirts of Apopka. I thought to myself, why not give the guy a chance to speak his mind. I will 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 someone, yet I sensed sincerity in his statements and a certain curiosity on his own part, like he was questioning his own tenets with each breath.

"Animals? What if you had sex with a monkey, could you get it pregnant?"


"What if you had sex with a black woman, could you get her pregnant?"

"Yeah, of course."

"Well then, what you are saying is that if black people are animals and you could get that type of animal pregnant, then you are a monkey, too. We're all a bunch of animals." He had no smart answer. With everything he stated, 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. What would you do? Would you try to return it? Would you tell your card carrying members that you are now tainted with the blood of an animal? Would they hang you?" 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" song from Sunday School days gone by. Many southern racists are born into religious families that adhere to weird and twisted interpretations of the Bible. 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 unwinding itself and I had one final question to ask.

"What if we were on a deserted island, you, me and a really good looking black woman..." Just like that 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 a thing.

"I'd kill you, not her. A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do." I knew what he meant.

"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? Something 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." He had listened to enough, I reckon. "Thanks for the talk. Gotta go." And off he went. The crowd immediately broke into applause. I had no idea anyone had been paying attention to our conversation.

Occasionally, I think about that guy who went back to the hangin' trees that only sway from the wind these days. Back to the fiery crosses of days gone by. I hope and pray those days will one day be gone forever and the warm southern breezes of brotherhood sweep through the minds of people like him everywhere. I can dream, can't I?

Friday, February 17, 2006

A Snow Storm That Will Last A Lifetime

Hardly a day goes by we don’t hear about police shutting down a meth lab somewhere. Good for them. You never know what might be going on behind closed doors. We worry about what manufacturers put in our food, yet drug users seldom think about whom they buy their illicit drugs from and what chemicals go in them. From the processor to the end user, who knows what they’ve been “stepped” with? Over time, some of those fillers may have an impact on one's health elsewhere in the body. That’s not really why I wrote this, but it’s something to think about.

This is a true story of two friends and what happened to them from substance abuse, primarily, drugs that went up their noses. Most users would never think about this, either.

They’d been rolling up paper money and snorting coke for years. We all know what happens when too much alcohol is consumed. It can damage the liver, for one thing. Cirrhosis comes to mind. Once the liver goes, so does the rest of the body. Who would ever think cocaine could have anything to do with harming the liver? It can and this is how.

For those of you who have ever snorted coke, meth, or any other substance, you often do it with "friends." Some, you may have met only minutes earlier. Mostly, these "friends" are not friends at all. They are merely acquaintances and the common thread of drugs is what bonds you. As that rolled up bill gets passed around the room, didn’t you notice how wet the tip became? It’s mucus produced by irritated sinus membranes. With each subsequent snort, you are sucking up each other’s body fluids. Ingesting drugs this way causes vessels to pop, and that throws blood into the mix. The drug, cutting agents, mucus and blood are absorbed into your now exposed veins, and you do this without thinking about the risks. Temporary euphoria conquers a lifetime of consequences. That's what happened to my friends. One day he went to his physician for something unrelated. The doctor decided it was time to do blood work. He was called back in for the results. Of course, she needed to be tested, too. Neither had any real symptoms, but what they both discovered was shocking.

Hepatitis C

HCV is spread primarily by exposure to human blood. As a virus, it can become chronic and may lead to liver failure and sometimes, death. Only in this sense, perhaps, they were lucky. Can HIV/AIDS and other diseases be spread this way?

We don't like to think about bad things. No one is perfect and we're all guilty of some form of self-abuse. Hopefully, we learn from other people's misfortunes so we don’t have to go through similar fates. This is knowledge we should absorb through our eyes and ears. In this case, it wasn’t knowledge and it went up their noses instead, and they want all concerned to know before they have their livers scared out of them, too.

Monday, February 13, 2006

A Mother's Job

When I was living with Susan, her daughter, Hannah, was going to a private school. She might have been around 11 or 12 years old at the time. I worked for an ad agency down the street. Susan did a lot of substitute teaching. On those days, Hannah would generally walk down to my office and wait with me while I did my work. Then, we would go home. This one particular day, I didn't have much to do, so I drove to the school, picked her up and went home. I had paper work that needed to be done, so, when we got there, she asked me if she had to do her homework right away. Could I watch TV for awhile? Sure, why not? I normally helped her with her homework, but, I did have this work to do. I went into the bedroom and sprawled my paperwork out onto the bed. I could hear the TV, since I left the door open. About a half hour later, she walked in. I was sitting up in bed, concentrating on my work.

"Dave?" she asked, with an inquisitive look on her face, "What does 'swallow the swan' mean?"

"I don't know," I responded. That wasn't quite the truth, but, that's what I told her, kind of like she had to be on a need to know basis and she didn't need to know. Not at her age.

"OK, then, what's a 'bl*w j*b?'" She looked so naive.

That one hit me like a brick. I glanced at the alarm clock. It was about 3:30. "What are you watching? HBO?"


I hesitated with my answer and thought about how ridiculous and irresponsible it is for HBO to be putting this type of programming on so early in the afternoon, knowing full well that many viewers are going to be children. I realize parents are ultimately responsible for what their children watch, but, I just didn't think the adults who schedule cable programs wouldn't consider the kinds of stuff they put on so early.

"Well, what does it mean?" she asked, just standing there.

"I think you need to talk to your mother about that."

"You're supposed to be my dad, I want you to tell me."

I gave it a lot of thought. I figured her mother would tell her anyway, since she was at an age now where curiosity was kicking in. I thought, maybe she knew and was just testing me. School kids always knew more, or at least they thought they did, than they would ever fess up to, even though it was a private, Catholic school. I was sure the word had been passed around in the hallways. I gave her a very solemn look.

"It's when a man puts his thing in a woman's mouth."

Immediately, she had this look of disgust only a child's face could display. It was as if she had eaten the sourest pickle in the world, gotten a whiff of the foulest smell, and had to wash it all down with dried up lima beans with rotten buttermilk on them.

"Ew, yuck... you never had that happen to you, did you?" Oh, boy. She had to ask that, didn't she? Again, I was asked a serious question, only, this one really did need an answer and I had to handle it with all the finesse I could muster. I had to think fast. I didn't want to lie to her and I didn't want to tell her the truth.

I never said a word. Instead, I gave her that same disgusted look right back, like I had eaten the sourest pickle in the world, gotten a whiff of the foulest smell, and had to wash it all down with dried up lima beans with rotten buttermilk on them. I didn't lie and I didn't tell the truth.

She was content. She never needed to hear anything else about it that day. "OK, thanks," and out the door she went. I told her she couldn't watch that movie. She could only put the TV on the cartoon channel. "Nuh-uh," she exclaimed, "I'm watching it."

"NO, YOU'RE NOT! You either put it on the cartoon channel or turn it off and start working on your homework." She took the cartoon route.

When Susan came home, I immediately told her what had transpired an hour earlier. Was I right or wrong for explaining it the way I did? She chuckled at my response to Hannah and told me I was right, that Hannah appreciated my candor and honesty and would have more respect for me as a father teaching a child about things in life. It sure was awkward, and she never did bring up any questions to me again. Maybe, she thought her mother should tell her about that kind of stuff from now on.

I did tell her one more thing, though. No more HBO.

Friday, February 03, 2006

The Hirsute of Happiness

Every year, a lot of my old friends in New Jersey would congregate in Beach Haven for our annual "Big Chill" party. I would come up from Florida. We always had great times and I am filled with fond memories of our 'down the shore' events.

One year, in particular, my old buddy Frank and his then wife Suzanne showed up, as they always did. This year, Frank was in a bit of pain. I've known Frank for pretty much 30 some years now, and I must say he's about the hairiest guy I know. You know, the kind of hair that comes up above the collar of your shirt. He's got more on his back than I've ever had on my head. Yes, I did have hair up there once. Anyway, I'm sure Frank's back hair is a lot grayer now.

This one summer, Suzanne decided she didn't really like running her fingers through Frank's sexy back hair. It just wasn't stimulating to her any more, I guess. I think she thought it scared small children away - maybe kids were always throwing bananas at him, like they were at the zoo or something. She decided she was going to Nair him. That depilatory stuff. I guess it did a really fine job. The only problem was, they didn't think about ingrown hairs.

When they arrived, Suzanne was driving, not that there's anything unusual about that, but, Frank liked to do the long distance trips. They only lived a couple of hours away, but, it was usually him. We all greeted them as they parked.

"Frank! Suzanne! Great to see you!"

"Ow, ow, ow," he exclaimed as he tried to sidle himself out of the passenger seat.

He explained what Suzanne had done and the terrible pain he was in. "I couldn't sit back in my seat the whole trip down. You should see all these zitty looking things all over my back. The pain is terrible! Here, look..."

"NO, NO, NO, Frank. YUCK. We don't want to look at your ugly back!" I think we all yelled that. Good thing we stopped him. He showed me later on and it was bad.

The whole time, Frank was a hurting cowboy. When we went to the beach, he didn't remove his shirt. He couldn't sit back and the only way he could lie down was on his belly. Boy, grown men can whine a lot.

They started to tell us about other areas of his body she had experimented on, but, we won't go into that. I think he might have taken on the appearance of a ten year old boy in one particular region. We didn't want to know. You think he might have learned his lesson. Maybe, ingrown hairs don't grow down there, but it had to have been a sight to see, hair everywhere else but that one small, tiny, wee, little spot. Not to mention what the plumber must have charged to unclog their drain.

Poor Frank. It took him months to get back to normal. Nair-do-well. I think that's what we called him that summer.