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, 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


"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


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."

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Bachelor Kitchen Tips: Grandma's Molasses.

Bachelors should always keep a dependable supply of long-lasting food staples in their disgusting hovels, stuff that your descendants would be able to eat when you're dead and gone for a couple generations, because, until your money runs out, you'll be eating out most of the time while perfectly good food rots in your refrigerator. Things like flour, oils, rice, sugar and pasta will wait patiently for your attention while you're out swilling high-calorie beer with your marginally moronic companions, screaming at sports events on a TV screen and looking for loose women. .

One of my favorite staples is Grandma's molasses, not only because it keeps forever but it's the perfect solution to the brown sugar dilemma.

I love brown sugar. I could eat it by the spoonful, which is like a mouthful of grainy but delicious fudge. But, trying to store brown sugar is almost impossible. A nice, moist box of brown sugar turns into a brick in no time, and unless you like licking a brick, you can't use it. I've tried everything short of buying a special storage container that claims to keep it moist. Who needs another container? You need room in your cupboards for microwave popcorn, Doritos and Ramen noodles.

I tried chipping pieces off the brick, but even Michelangelo could not sculpt this stuff.
I tried giving it a mighty whack with a 16-ounce hammer, and all I got was two bricks instead of one.
I tried melting it in the microwave and, maybe my microwave is an old jalopy, but all I got were sparks, bright flashes of light in the window and a warm brick.

Here's the key: Refined white sugar is nothing more than the sweet crystals formed after boiling the juices from crushed raw sugar cane. Molasses is the leftover goo. It still contains lots of sweet crystals, unless you keep boiling until the goo becomes "blackstrap" molasses, which is too bitter for most folks, although, if you have a home-made distillery in your apartment, it's a main ingredient for making rum and stout beer.

My parents used to keep a big jar of Grandma's molasses in the pantry when I was a kid (Yes, we had a pantry, a walk-in closet full of food staples and canned goods instead of clothes). You know a mess when you've seen the aftermath of a trio of under-8 boys turned loose in the pantry with a butter knife, a loaf of Wonder bread and a jar of Grandma's molasses. Brown sticky stuff can spread faster than snow in a blizzard.

The beauty is that you can count on Grandma's to make instant brown sugar on demand, no spoilage, no brick. Mix a spoonful or two of molasses in a cup of white sugar (you need good biceps and/or a little patience), and no one will know that the brown sugar is homemade.

I prefer brown sugar in my apple pies. If you ever sum up the courage and ambition to leave the living room to pass through the kitchen, aside from momentary foraging, try baking an apple pie (ready-made crusts like Pillsbury's rolled-up dough are excellent). Toss the apple chunks in a healthy dose of molasses and add a little less sugar.

Mmm. Delicious.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Blood Moon for Easter.

Get up early on Saturday if you want to catch the Blood Moon.

On the East Coast, you'll have to be watching around 6:30 am. In California, plan for the middle of the night. There's lots of spooky lore about the total eclipse when the moon turns reddish-orange, but this time it's special. It arrives on the first night of the Jewish Passover, the celebration of the Exodus, when the Children of Israel escaped Egyptian slavery (that would be Moses parting the Red Sea), and in the middle of the Christian Easter Vigil, the day between Jesus' death and His resurrection on Sunday.

So it says in the King James Bible: "The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord comes." (Joel 2:31).

According to the forecast (the weather forecast, not the biblical), there may be clouds rolling in, which is why I missed the last Blood Moon, but if you're planning a special breakfast for Sunday, set an extra plate anyway. After the Last Supper on Good Friday, Jesus may be looking for a First Breakfast to give us a new start.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Bad Dream/Good Dream

There's an amusing backstory to how I drove every day without a driver's license for almost 26 years, but it's a long story--actually, a whole series of stories, amusing but too long for today.

Right in the middle of those 26 years, I enjoyed a reprieve when I lived in Maine for about a year. I was actually awarded a license by the state, which was suspended by the court about a week later. But, I went on a little adventure to the state capital, got an interview with a bureaucrat, got the license back, then moved to New Hampshire, where the license became legally invalid after 90 days.

Blah blah blah on and on.

To sum up my irritating saga, be it known that I have now had a valid New Hampshire driver's license for over five months.

My personal satisfaction--my denouement--came to me in a dream the other night:

I was in a resort town somewhere on a side street scratching my car key on the ground. An uncle of mine, suddenly appearing as a young man, accompanied by his son and a friend, approached me and informed me that I was about to be arrested and taken to jail for driving without a license, that they were here to take me to none other than the prison for terrorists at Guantanamo Bay.

I took a fighting stance, threatened them and vowed that they would have to take me by force--and it would not be pretty. Unwilling to commit themselves, they decided to go for a walk around the colorful town to see the sights. They would come back later.

Parked in this backstreet was an antique car, something resembling an old Model A Ford, which they would use to take me away. I crawled into the front seat and saw--close up--the keys dangling from the ignition. Ah-ha!

I started the car and tested the old brakes on the sloping street. The car was a dusty old piece of junk, not well preserved, but it worked, and all I had to do was take a right to get on the main strip. At the corner, I had a great thought: I would drive down the strip and see my uncle and his companions walking along as I glided by, and I would beep the horn, laughing at them. I could just imagine their jaws dropping. Love it!

I woke up from the dream happily, and I was still smiling as I sipped my second cup of coffee.

So--I think those 26 years prove one thing: I must be one dam good driver to dodge the authorities for all that time, when lots of people, including a few lawyers, predicted that I'd end up in jail. Ha!