Friday, November 16, 2007

Sunday Scribblings - "I Carry" Friday 11/16/07

This week’s prompt of “I carry” came at exactly the right time. I knew in moments what I had to write about. Could we please have a prompt next week that I can go back to “writing with a smirk”? It is much less painful..

I carry with me a heavy sadness that manifests itself during the Holiday Season. At no time is the disparity between the haves and the have-nots more evident than as Christmas approaches. The first pangs arrived today as I stood in front of a Salvation Army Angel Tree. I am certain that most people know what that is but in the event that one of my readers is from Neptune where there are no trees, or Dubai where there is no poverty, I will explain. The first name of a needy child is placed on a placard and hung from a Christmas tree. Along with the name is a present request and clothing sizes for the child. I am not sure how the children are selected as needy. I guess it is arbitrarily determined that there is a breakpoint for those in need and those not. I feel sorry for that child who barely misses the cut for needy and does not qualify for an anonymous gift. Anyway, you just select a child at random and provide some hope for Christmas. It is a great program and I participate every year.

One of the main reasons I participate in the Angel Tree is that in 1960, had they had such a program, I would have qualified. The Bunker Hill Company, which my dad worked for, was on strike for 220 days in 1960, ending on December 10th. We were living in Wyoming, where dad could find work in uranium mines, though he longed for the relative safety of lead (not much of a choice there). So a few days before Christmas we left Wyoming in a blizzard for northern Idaho, on bald tires and an 8 cylinder, running on about 5. Somewhere along the journey my dad purchased a Lionel electric train that I had been clamoring for. He did not have money for the necessities of life, but felt I needed a Christmas Present. My memories of all my 55 Christmases blend together but I remember Christmas that year more than any other. I remember it with a great sadness, which I have carried with me all these years. I know that I should be happy that my dad loved me enough to sacrifice for me. But I am not. I have carried with me a certain amount of guilt that a Holiday put him in that situation. I have sorrow that the Christmas Holiday has such a potential for sadness and disappointment. Most of all, I have remorse that I probably never said thank you for that sacrifice.

As I selected a child to sponsor, the sadness came in torrents. It is not a child’s fault that they are born into a situation by which they are deemed needy. It is not their presence that caused a parent to be unemployed, uneducated, unreliable, unlucky, unacceptable, untrained, unambitious, unappealing, unbefitting, uncoachable, unclean, unadept, undatable, uncultured, unequipped, undesirable, uneducable, unethical, unhirable, unfavored, unpolished, unpaid, unpardoned, unpleasing, unpolished, unlikable, unlaundered, unloving, unmanageable, unmotivated, unneighborly, unnamable, unprivileged, unprized, unrealistic, unproven, unpurified, unreceptive, unrestrained, unrespectable, unrefined, unremarkable, unabsolved, unacademic, unacclaimed, unaccomplished, unacquitted, unappreciated, unaromatic, unwed, unworkable, unsterilized, unsuitable, unteachable, unthrifty, unutilized, unvalued, undignified, undiplomatic, undiagnosed, uninsured, or unendowed. But, it is not necessarily the parents’ fault that they are needy. My dad was certainly not culpable. He was many of the uns listed above, but none by his own doing. He was a victim of circumstances. Yes, sometimes it is by their own choices: Alcoholism, drug addiction, laziness, abusiveness, abandonment, etc., but not always.

There are no guarantees that Charli, a 12-year-old girl who likes Hannah Montana and the High School Musical will actually receive the gifts I purchase for her. In the back of my mind is the vision of her guardian selling the size 14 pants to buy drugs. But I have to try. Maybe Charli’s daddy is just a victim of circumstances. Charli deserves to feel special, at least at Christmas.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Sunday Scribblings - Driving Left - 11/11/07

I lived in England for six years and surprisingly had little problem adjusting to driving on the “wrong” side of the road. My initial arrival was on the ferry to Felixstowe from Zeebrugge Belgium. They make the transition very easy. You drive off the ferry and there you are on the left-hand side of the highway and on your way. I had a few minor setbacks particularly when I was very tired or was on unmarked, unlit country roads at night.

The one glaring exception was in August of 1983. I drove a group of three friends to Castle Donington to attend the Monsters of Rock Concert. Whitesnake, Twisted Sister, ZZ Top, Ronnie Dio, Meat Loaf (one of my all-time favorite performers), Diamond Head, Ritchie Blackmore, and others took the stage while many thousands of us imbibed and ingested a multitude of mind-expanding, mind-altering, and mind-numbing substances.
When the concert ended well into the night, the throngs began to disperse. Intoxicated by the music, atmosphere, and whatever chemicals were flowing through our veins, it was decided that we were too far-gone to attempt the long drive back to Ipswich. England was way ahead of the states in penalties for driving impaired.

So we all crawled into the car and in minutes were in various states of sleep, stupor, and coma. I awoke about daylight and feeling renewed, though not necessarily so, I decided to let the others sleep as I piloted us home. I turned onto the M1 Motorway and had driven several miles when my copilot awoke, somewhat, and after observing our progress for a few minutes remarked how odd it was that all the road signs were turned around backwards. “Oh my God”, raced through my groggy brain. I was driving down one of Britain’s major highways on the wrong side of the road. The American equivalent would be driving down I-95 against traffic. Luckily, unlike I-95, at that time on a Sunday morning that section of the M1 motorway was deserted and unpatrolled. This saved not only our lives, but more important, the embarrassment that only extreme stupidity can afford. Though, now, immediately stone sober, sweating profusely, and ghostly white, I performed an incredible 180 degree maneuver, nearly on two wheels. Unfortunately I had to drive several miles back to the next exit before I could send us back in the right direction. The corpses in the back did not stir and later when we recounted the episode to them, they did not get the full effect of the horror we experienced. This writing is the first account of that experience ever documented. I am hoping the statute of limitations has expired and that England does not extradite for stupidity.

I would like to make one comment about driving in England. I much prefer the roundabout to American signal lights. The roundabouts keep the flow of traffic much smoother, even in the congestion of London.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Sunday Scribblings - "Money" 11/4/07

The subject this week of “money” brought to mind events in my life where legal tender was painfully hard to come by. I take you back to a simpler time:

When I was a child I could be very happy with a dime. It provided me with many options. Among other things, I could choose between ten pieces of penny candy, two cokes, two big assed Hershey bars (twice the size of the standard Hershey bar today), or a game of pinball. Any combination of which were very satisfying to me. With a quarter I could have a world-class sugar high (unknown in those days) and the beginnings of life-long dental issues.

In 1972, I purchased my first “new” car. My dad had instilled in me the importance of a warrantee, so I set out to find the cheapest car with a warrantee, meaning it had to be a new car. I checked out the Chevy Vega, Ford Pinto, and Volkswagen Beetle, but the cheapest I could find was an AMC Gremlin, $1, 400 bucks. Stop laughing. It was bright red with white stripes and so ugly it was cute. Kind of like a Pug breed of dog. The only car actually less attractive than the Gremlin was also made my American Motors some time later. It was the Pacer, which looked like some sort of perverted fish bowl. Thankfully, I never owned one of them. Early on, I loved that Gremlin. If you closed one eye and squinted, it actually looked sporty. However, you will notice the photo of the Gremlin I included in this blog pictures it with the hood up. That is an accurate depiction of my Gremlin. I actually had a Gremlin-X. I came to find out that the X stood for Xtremely Shitty Car. When I bought the Gremlin I was working for the Bunker Hill Company making well over $3.00 an hour (huge money for a nineteen year old in 1972. I was a carefree, single guy with a "hot" ride. Luckily, girls in Kellogg, Idaho in 1972 were a little like Amish girls, they would ride in anything that had a radio. All that came to a screeching halt when I received my induction notice and joined the Air Force, found out my girlfriend was pregnant, and got married, all in a matter of months. My payments were $38 a month and there were a few months that my dad made the payment for me. Plus, the day after the coveted warrantee expired the car self-destructed and I gave it to my dad for liquidation. I have owned and forgotten a lot of cars but even in my current state of dementia, will always remember that first new car. Plus, any time Hollywood wants to portray a character as a real dork, you can bet your ass he will be driving a Gremlin or Pacer. The international symbol for loser. Thanks a lot, Paramount.

When I was a twenty-year-old enlisted man in the Air Force living in Denver with a wife and baby, money was nonexistent. I remember that the $100 a month rent on our small apartment took up the majority of my monthly pay leaving very little for such extravagances as food. We sometimes collected soda bottles (yes, they were worth money then) to return for deposit in order to purchase baby formula. We would often invite single friends from the barracks over for a home cooked meal, providing they brought the food. A special treat for us was to go to Arby’s for a roast beef sandwich. Boy, did that sandwich taste good. No fast food is nearly as satisfying these days. I have visited Arby’s later in life but could never duplicate the joy. I don’t think Arby’s has changed, I think I have. I have become so accustomed to having what I want, when I want it, that there is no sense of a “treat”.

I was once an avid and competitive bowler. When our financial back was against the wall it would be agreed, reluctantly, that I would take our last five dollars and enter a bowling tournament. You can’t imagine the pressure when my wife and baby were seated behind the lanes, their livelihood depending on my scant talent. Whether it was providence or not, each time that this occurred I placed high enough to generate income. Even though I look back on this as foolish and risky, it often allowed us to purchase some necessities of life. I have never experienced greater pride than holding out the $50 or $75 that I won to my wife. Then we were off on a shopping spree for milk, bread, Dinty Moore Beef Stew, and TV dinners.

If you are looking for where this is all going, you have obviously not read any of my previous blogs. I think what I am clumsily trying to say is that some of my most memorable times were when money was in scant supply but my austere life brought great joy and appreciation. For the current, jaded, me, true delight is the scarce commodity.