Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mumma, Keeper of the Faith.



When you go out to meet the real world and you need strength to face all the tigers and sharks out there, try thinking about the title to that ancient television show from the fifties, "I Remember Mama."

Ma, Mum, Mom--whatever you call her, she was the first one to give you strength. She empowered you with perfect love, love without boundaries, even when you wanted her to shut up and go away, even in the middle of a knock-down family battle.

You could commit murder, and your mother would say you didn't really mean it. She could be wrong, but she doesn't know and never will--not when it comes to you, her baby.

Keep in mind that somewhere out there, even beyond the people you know, you have friends and allies who believe in the dreams you dream, who believe in righteousness, like your mother. The tigers and sharks won't stand a chance.

Because she's unique. She's the Keeper of the Faith.

PHOTO: My mother, Doris, also starring Conrad, my father.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Reigning Cats and Dogs.




Way back in the beginning of Western Civilization, all the dogs on Earth decided to hold a worldwide convention to develop a strategy for survival.

I know this because my studies in History include author, P.J. O'Rourke.

The convention was a raucous affair, since dogs bark a lot, but they finally agreed on their fundamental guiding principles. First of all--it was decided--humans were obviously destined to rule the world. Dogs wouldn't stand a chance against clever human thinking and two-legged walking, both of which they could do at the same time. So, dogs must accept the inevitable and adapt.

Dogs must make friends with humans. Ultimately, the key to success is for dogs to become man's best friends. Select a small family of humans and follow them wherever they lead. Be incredibly loyal, run and jump and celebrate their every asinine activity, like tossing frisbees around. Learn a few human terms like "sit" and "stay," and "say please." Act happy whenever they enter the room, even if your trying to take a well-deserved nap--no need to get up, just wag your tail a little and always keep one eye open to see what they're up to. If they want you to learn the term "fetch," you may have to do the chore, especially unpleasant when some idiot thinks you enjoy swimming through cold ocean surf to fetch a little tree branch that tastes nothing like a meat-bone. Do it. They'll love you for it and feed you nutritious stuff, plus treat you with human delicacies under the dinner table. You'll have a warm place to sleep--and security for life.

Let your tongue hang out!

But, here's the paramount tactic in dog strategy: Do not poop on their living room rugs. You will be punished for such behavior. Understand--that no poop is acceptable in the their houses. They even train their own beloved human babies not to leave poop around. Sniff as you might, you won't find a dollop of poop anywhere in the house. It's amazing. So, get trained on pooping, as ridiculous as it seems (Really, who thinks about a little pile of poop? Turns out, they do).

So. Poop outside and live well.

Bang, convention adjourned.



Observing this convention of dogs, the cats on Earth decided to hold their own convention, and it was quite a different affair. They huddled mostly in a cozy pile, many of them purring. And they had no doubt about their guiding principles.

First of all--they determined--humans were a bunch of dog-like, slap-happy idiots who would bully their way into ruling the world. They're clever, violent, and they have no scruples. So, fine--who cares who rules the stupid world as long as cats can live out their nine lives in comfort and contentment?

"We are not dogs," the Chaircat assured the convention attendees--to mass meows of agreement.. "We will not--like dogs--hang out drooling tongues slavishly begging for approval. "WE WILL DO AS WE PLEASE!" declared the Chaircat, which triggered a mass demonstration, with every variety of cat joining a celebratory conga line dancing passed the podium, hips swaying, tails waving and meowing all the way. When the convention hall calmed down, the Chaircat delivered another crowd-pleasing declaration: "THE HUMANS WILL NOT TRAIN US. WE WILL TRAIN THEM!"

The cats were beside themselves with joy, laying on their backs, waving their legs and getting belly scratches from nearby happy cats. They knew that humans were no match for their beauty, grace and flat out sex appeal. Cats were just too tiny and pretty to be punished; no human had the hard heart to kick one of them, as they did dogs. Just curl into their warm, comfortable laps and purr, and your life will be good. They may even fall so in love with you that you'll get to gobble up some expensive albacore tuna, fresh out of the can.

As for the poop issue, the cats were not concerned. Poop where you please, the Chaircat said. Humans will adapt. None of them have the heart to whack your pretty puss with a rolled up newspaper to train you. They'll even provide you with a pleasant poop place, complete with aromatic granules you can use to cover the foul odor, and--believe it or not--they'll clean out the poop for you while you scratch their furniture to shreds just for the fun of it.

"If any droopy-eared, ragamuffin mutt comes into the family and tries to interfere with our lifestyle with its obnoxious sniffing around, we'll scratch his dopey eyes out," the Chaircat vowed.

Thunderous meows of approval rocked the hall as the convention closed--woe be it to dogs and humans.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Sangria: Eat Fruit, Get Drunk.


Sangria is  great drink, and it's easy to improvise a nutritious, home-made batch.

Take a bottle of good wine (I prefer red) and add some brandy. The more brandy, the more "punch" it will have (Brandy is distilled wine. They boil wine to get rid of water content, leaving more alcohol and more flavor in the pot. Actually, you could try making brandy at home, but be careful--if you get too rambunctious boiling this stuff, you could end up calling 911 to fight the fireball consuming your kitchen). I recommend a good store-bought brandy like cognac.

Next, add some sugar and/or molasses until you like the taste.Then, add a handful or two of fruit chunks or slices of citrus fruit, apples to make "applejack," strawberries or whatever. Let it chill in the frig for a couple hours to let the flavors meld, then serve over ice or mix with soda.

I find that you can get a very good sangria ready-made in a bottle. Although it's a traditionally Spanish/Portuguese drink, try the Australian brand, [yellow tail]. Just look for the kangaroo on the label. You might even find this in a convenience store.

As for me, I would not dilute it by mixing. I prefer it straight, a lesson I learned forever from my mother, Doris, at a restaurant in her old age.

I watched her using a spoon to scoop out the ice from the glass of water the waitress had served her. She placed each ice cube in a plate nearby.

"Ma," I said, "What are you doing?"

"I don't want ice," she answered irritably.

"What's wrong with the ice?"

"It dilutes the drink," she said.

"Ma...," I started to say....

But I never finished my sentence because--how could I explain to her that water doesn't dilute water? She was right, in principle. With the single exception of water in this case, water dilutes everything.

Gotta give her credit for the principle.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Ode To a Friend



About 40 years ago, I met a very pretty, very sweet girl when she suddenly married my good ol' Navy buddy, Brian, who turned out to be my truest life-long friend. Since then,Vera, the girl, was always there by his side.

"A good woman to ride the river with," Brian would describe her, taking the measure from those beloved Western novels by Louis L'Amour.

"Yup," I say, in the succinct spirit of L'Amour.

The girl treated Brian like rough-cut royalty on that river, kind of like a king, and she gave my friend two princes, their sons, Shane and Brad. She took care of those riders night and day, however the river ran.

I spent a lot of time in that household, supported heart and soul in my dubious adventures, as if I was first cousin to the king, royal blood. And, if the king and his cousin yearned for a pitcher of martinis and a platter of homemade nachos supreme to accompany three TV movies in a row, Vera was supremely tolerant, armed with her understanding that men, though loathe to admit it, are genetically programmed to make asses of themselves--at least occasionally.

She knew.

It wasn't easy on her, but she knew; the men would eventually come home, always.

Then as suddenly as I met her she was gone in a shock too soon--bam--take that boys. I had assumed that the king and I would never see her go, that she would bury us. But no. At 62 she was gone--while we kept aging along the river, riding more slowly.

It didn't seem right. She was too gentle, too sweet, too young....

Like a fragile flower, I wondered? Well, maybe...like a flower that looked beautiful, smelled sweet and died too soon? Yes, but no, those flowers didn't complete the picture in my imagination. I needed something more, something that does things. She was more like one of those graceful dandelion parachutes, floating on a current of air you didn't even know existed, carrying a kindness to the life around her--in fact, carrying life itself.

That's how I think of her as she floats in my memory, gently, slowly, brushing my cheek with her very human grace.

Thank you, my friend, Vera.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Ahh...Vacation.



"Hey, look," God said, "Tom and Gayle are going to Tennessee on vacation for the week."
Grins of anticipation broke out on all the angels' faces.
"Oh, Lord, no. You're not going to do it again, are you?" said one of the angels.
"Hee hee," said God. "Don't worry, I'll give them fair warning."

When we left for Tennessee on Southwest airlines, we naturally checked the weather forecast on the smart phone, and it didn't look promising. Little icons with dark clouds, rain and lightening marched across the screen for the next seven days without interruption--no little suns peeked at us.

Yet, we dodged those little bullets for four days, enjoying the Grand Ol' Oprey, some great restaurants and lounging in the high-end hotel, with only a short cloudburst once overnight. Gayle attended her DoTerra essential oils conference, and I laughed away most of the days with my old Navy buddy, Brian, seated not far from the well-stocked bar.

The rain began on departure day, but we flew from Nashville to Baltimore without a hitch.

"Look how happy they are..." said one of the angels, prompting his cohorts to steal a glance at God.
"Hee hee," said God.

In Baltimore, at 6:40 pm, when we checked the big board for departures, our home town was labeled "DELAYED" --two hours. A bit later as we watched lightening flashes through the rivers of rain on the windows, the delay became three hours. Then, suddenly at 8:30 pm, the board flashed back to "ON TIME," and we lined up to board, though Gayle continued frowning at the lightening flashes.

Within minutes, the board changed its mind again: "CANCELLED," like everything else in and out of Baltimore.

So, we were instructed to line up for re-booking--next flight 6:55 am tomorrow, and word spread fast that the hotels were already booked solid and lines to rent cars were crawling. At 10:30 pm, I'd had enough.

"Now, watch what Tom does, " said God. "And the angels rolled in the clouds laughing, though a few of them pleaded for mercy between howls. "Oh, Lord, no, no, no, a-hahahahaha!"

"I might as well explore the food situation for later," I told Gayle "Watch my bags."

Back in the Nashville airport there's a little tobacco store, about the size of a walk-in closet with a door in the back that leads to a legal smoking room. For five bucks you can get in and burn one, and I was primed for burning. But no such comfort appeared in Baltimore, so I walked and I walked, all the way to the fresh air outside, lit a Camel and enjoyed. It would be worth going through security again, I thought.

So, on my way back through security, I stripped my belt, emptied my pockets, slipped off my shoes, and produced my new boarding pass--and the Homeland Security lady rudely declared, "You can't go in," which triggered an indignant round of haggling from me that ended in her telling me that my boarding pass was for a flight TOMORROW, therefore I needed a "special gate pass" and I would have to go stand in line at the counter to get one. The line was one of those long snaking messes with about six or seven hairpin turns in it, so I hurried to the other end of the airport where there was another security line; maybe there would be a human being in charge who would show some understanding.

Nope. No human being, just another rude regulation reader going by-the-book from the TSA who said, "You want to get in? Go stand in line."

So I did, for an hour and a half, while my phone kept telling me to connect my charger--which was in my bag at the gate. I did get in one call to tell Gayle where I was. The lady at the counter then informed me that a "gate pass" wouldn't do me any good because the TSA, our security watchdogs, closed up shop and went home to sleep at 1:00 am. Nobody could get in until the next shift began at 4:00 am.

Nice to know that our watchdogs got a good night's rest.

I settled down in the baggage area and watched luggage from cancelled flights get strewn all over the airport floor like thick underbrush, people searching everywhere, then around 2:30 am Gayle staggered in. Some counter jerk told her she had to re-check her baggage for the morning flight, so we searched the underbrush and concluded that the luggage must be already on its way to loading, then we collapsed on a bench and stared at each other, brain dead.

"Nice touch, Lord," said an angel, giggling.

We got in line for our crack TSA team before 4:00 am. Apparently, we conformed to all the TSA regulations and they let us in, only to learn that our 6:55 am flight had been CANCELLED and we were officially assigned to the STANDBY list, which means we go to the bottom of the totem pole where every dingbat who arrived five minutes ago with a ticket has priority over us.

Howls across the heavens. Angels laughed, tumbled and rolled over each other in the clouds.

We sat through several boardings waiting for our names to be called and dragging our bags from gate to gate, waving goodbye to our overnight acquaintances until the 4:00 pm flight when I finally approached a counter clerk to beg. "Let's see," he said, squinting at the computer screen, "the best I can do is move you up ten places on the list, which makes you numbers 6 and 7."

A few minutes later, the crowd was aboard and they called Gayle's name. Hooray! The new clerk handed Gayle a boarding pass but she hesitated, waiting for me, "Go," I said, "Get on. I should be right behind you," but as I watched Gayle disappear down the tunnel, a boozy-looking business man interrupted. He had the wrong boarding pass, and the clerk told him he should have stopped at the previous counter--at which point I interrupted, "Do you have more seats?"
"I have one more seat...."
"Then I'm next."
"Excuse me, sir, I have a paying customer here I have to take care of."
Paying customer?! PAYING CUSTOMER??? Haven't I paid enough! With my money! With my time! With my sleep!
"I'm a paying customer!" I shouted.

No use. He got the pass, and as I watched the plane pull away, I noticed the next flight to Manchester on the big board, formerly 6:40 pm, now, CANCELLED.
I was slumped in a chair fighting sleep when word went out that the 6:40 flight was back on, and I got on.
Thank God Gayle was still awake to pick me up at around 9:00 pm at the Manchester airport.

"See," God said, "everything turns out okay. Tom even thanked me."

"As he should," nodded the angels in universal agreement.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Who?




Every now and then, I explore famous music, and I discover the names of my favorites, names I never knew, like Eric Clapton. Here's a great one--The Hollies:

Friday, April 24, 2015

Three Times Hopalong.



Back in the black and white fifties, shortly after we got that first 12-inch television set, which was squeezed into a big cabinet alongside a record player that popped out when you opened a door, the first network Western appeared on broadcast TV: Hopalong Cassidy, and it was a sensation, a phenomenon of mass marketing. Not until Roy Rogers and Davy Crockett hit the screen did so many businesses make so much money off we little tykes. They had Hopalong cap guns and holsters, Hopalong watches, Hopalong bicycles, and the first kid's tin lunchbox depicting a hero.


Hoppy (only his friends could call him that), played by William Boyd on TV and in 66 feature films, got his unusual nickname in an early Western novel when he got shot in the leg. In the original novels, he was a whisker-stubbled, rag-wearing bad-ass with a moral mission, like Bruce Willis with a hangover, but they cleaned him up and gave him a dude outfit for the show, where he drank only sarsaparilla, reputed to be a healthy soft drink that could fight all kinds of ailments including venereal disease, similar to the original Coca-cola.

In the photo above, you can see the result: a trio of Hopalongs, complete with Hopalong T-shirts and sidearms. I'm the big guy on the left, followed by Raymond then Jimmy. You can tell by our trigger fingers that Jimmy had not yet made the connection between a trigger and shooting a gun, but he sure could shoot.

A lot of gunfights took place in that house. It was the only Wild West we had to tame, to rid the territory of bank robbers, cattle rustlers and horse thieves, get them behind bars if not dead on the range. The sound of gunfire shook the house as we imitated the sound coming from the single, over-driven speaker of that antique TV, more like the sound of a steam locomotive, tchoo tchoo tchoo, since we had never actually heard a real gun fired. The only variation was when one of our imaginary bullets bounced off a rock, tchoo-ptching. We ran, hid, jumped, shouted, and climbed all over the terrain, which included huge boulders (couch and armchairs), giant cactus (floor lamp), and we even charged up to the high plains (the stairs), where we plotted in the bunkhouse (our bedroom) for the assault on the bad guys.

We watered our horses down at the creek (the kitchen sink), got some grub and quenched our own thirst with tall glasses of water laced with multiple spoonfuls from the sugar bowl, which later elicited a reprimand from parents brandishing the empty bowl. But, thus re-charged in the kitchen, we once again rode rough-shod through the rooms, urging our invisible mounts into a gallop with whoops and hollers.


Meanwhile, our older sister, Loretta, barricaded herself in her bedroom to tear her hair out--when she wasn't begging our parents to have us all publicly hanged in the center of Deadwood Gulch. We had gotten glimpses of that forbidden feminine sanctuary by crowding shoulder to shoulder on the threshold and craning our necks, jaws open at the sight of the mind-boggling neatness of the place, but, in front of the closed door, with periodic screams coming from the interior, we "figurred" it was nothing less than a damsel in distress, probably a pretty schoolmarm who needed protection from the kidnappers. We posted Jimmy to guard the door because he was the easiest to order around, although he would have difficulty staying focused when he heard the gunfire down in the canyon.

After a few hours of combating evil, my mother would call us back to civilization--dinner, where Loretta could take advantage of mandatory table manners to beg our parents to get us under control as she stared with equal disgust at her three younger brothers and the canned peas on one side of her dinner plate.

"Okay, boys," I'd say, holstering my gun--always in charge of the Hopalongs, "Let's get some grub."