Now, It’s Over . . . RIP Mr. Berra

Standard Berra was one of the greatest players to ever strap on a set of baseball spikes. The numbers speak for themselves, he holds the record for most appearances in a World Series at a staggering 14 as a player and seven more as manager or coach. Twenty-one times he appeared on baseball’s largest stage and in the process, became larger than life.

Yogi was a great player and a favorite of sportswriters all over the country. He shared the field with some of the greatest to ever don pinstripes — guys like Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio — , but he never let the amazing success or the rarified company go to his head. He knew he was a grown man blessed to be playing a kid’s game for pay so whenever one of those kids asked ol’ Yogi for an autograph on a baseball or program, he didn’t snarl . . . he smiled and took the item and a pen to sign it with.

In every respect, he was a class act, but, even if he hadn’t been in so many Fall Classics and even if he didn’t have a World Series ring for every finger and two thumbs and even if he didn’t still hold a plethora of records for games appeared in or doubles in the World Series, Yogi would still be remembered because his skill as a baseball player paled next to his alacrity with the English language. To whit,

  • When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
  • You can observe a lot by just watching.
  • It gets late early out here.
  • It’s like déjà vu all over again.
  • It ain’t over until it’s over.

He may not have sported Clark Gable good looks, but Clark didn’t catch the only perfect game ever thrown in a World Series, either. Yogi’s real name was Lawrence Berra, but if anyone outside his family ever called him that, it never showed up in print. He was a Yankee through and through, even though it didn’t start out that way.

Yogi had a rough patch breaking into the Major Leagues. First he was rejected by his hometown St. Louis Cardinals who instead signed his good friend Joe Garagiola, another Hall of Fame catcher. Then, when he ended up as a Yankee, his minor league career took a hiatus over a little disagreement we call World War 2 today. Finally, he ended up on the bench in his first season in The Show because he could hit the ball a mile but couldn’t throw from home to second, which is a debilitating issue for a catcher and the heretical position called the “designated hitter” had yet to be foisted upon the sacred game. Once he found his stride, though, things turned out all right for him. Besides his numerous World Series records, Yogi was a three time American League MVP and a 15 time All-Star in his 18 year career which spanned 1946-1963.

He was also one of my Papa Wham’s favorite baseball players and one of the very few Yankees he could tolerate.

In a bit of irony, Yogi died exactly sixty-nine years to the day of his Major League debut. Perhaps the home run he hit with his first at bat should have clued people in to the greatness to come.

Yogi Berra was 90 years old . . . he will be greatly missed by his family, the Yankees, and all true baseball fans everywhere.

Great War Wednesday: The Fokker Scourge


From the start of the Great War through September 1915, the air war, such as it was, had been dominated by the Allies. This was mainly due to two fortunate circumstances. First, they had more planes initially and second, more importantly, they had more rich young men who became pilots in the pre-War years as somewhat of a hobby. The British especially flew hundreds of sorties over the Western Front, generally to spot for the artillery and gather intelligence on troop movements for the generals. For the most part, these flights of the plodding scout aircraft came and went unimpeded across the lines. The few German planes, such as the Taube type, were outclassed by early British fighters such as the Vickers FB.5 and the French Morane-Saulnier L types. All that came to a screeching halt when Anthony Fokker’s brainchild, the Fokker E.I Eindecker appeared in September 1915 and initiated the period of the air war known as the Fokker Scourge.

The new Fokkers outclassed the French and British planes in every way. First, and strangely enough for a period dominated by biplanes, the E.I had a single wing mounted midway up the plane’s fuselage. This “high wing” design (as opposed to the wing running beneath the cockpit like most monoplanes) enabled the Fokker to turn much tighter in a fight than its opponents could. Also, the bracing of the wing allowed the planes to climb and dive more violently than their French and British counterparts without fear of the wings snapping off. Since a single wing weighed less than two, they also held a decided speed advantage over other planes of the day.

Max Immelmann, the Eagle of Lille and developer of the famous Immelmann Turn.

However, the secret of the Fokker’s dominance for the six to eight month period of the Fokker Scourge or Fokker Scare as some called it, lay in the armament. British planes relied on a separate gunner to fight air combats while the French mounted plates on their propellers in hopes of not shooting off their tickets home. The Germans, however, with their typical engineering zeal, managed to perfect the synchronization gear. This mechanism, also called an interrupter gear, allowed machine guns to be mounted along the axis of the plane and fire directly through the propeller arc. The gear attached to the engine’s crankshaft and whenever the propeller swept in front of the gun, a cam on the gear would prevent the gun from firing, ensuring the safety of the propeller.

The effect of the interrupter gear immediately propelled the German aircraft to the fore. Now, instead of trying to maneuver to allow a separate gunner to get a shot in or trying to line up a shot with a gun mounted atop the high second wing of a biplane, the pilot’s job simplified greatly. All he had to do was point his nose at the target. Wherever the plane flew, the bullets would fly also. The Germans strengthened this advantage by mounting belt fed machine guns instead of drum fed guns like the British Lewis gun. The belts allowed the Germans greater firepower in terms of sustained bursts which a British plane could not match for having to change drums on his gun. The interrupter gears were such an important part of the German successes, the German High Command actually forbade pilots from crossing the German lies into French and British airspace for fear that a shot down aircraft would result in their improved weapons system falling into the hands of the Allies. Thus, the Scourge was less severe than it otherwise might have been had pilots had free reign the entire time their aircraft were technologically far superior.

The strength and speed of the Fokker Eindeckers gave rise to some of the first standardized air combat tactics. One of the most famous was the Immelmann Turn, named for Germany’s early ace Max Immelmann. He would climb high and get his back to the Sun then dive on an unsuspecting target firing a long burst as he came. Most pilots would then continue the dive and begin a long climb back to an advantageous position. Immelmann discovered if he kept the throttle open and the plane at full power, he could “zoom.” This meant he would pull up hard on the stick at the bottom of his dive as he passed his target. His momentum would carry him on a short climb and he could then pitch the plane over and it would seemingly “flip” on it’s tail and be pointed right back at his opponent, giving him two attack chances instead of one for each pass.

Unfortunately for Germany, their dominance of the sky would only last until the spring of 1916 when more capable British and French aircraft began appearing on the front lines. These newer biplanes proved able to master the vaunted Eindecker and German pilots again became the hunted rather than the hunters . . . at least until the appearance of The Albatross turned the tide in the air once again!

Love y’all and keep those feet clean!

Breakdown Hangaround Hangover

Standard in late May, I was at the beginning of the worst neurotic episode of my life. I’ve only had three real, true events most people would call nervous breakdowns and this one took the cake. June is really hazy and July isn’t much better. Finally, around the first week of August, the skies started to clear a bit and I realized I was going to make it out of this black hole one more time. For eight weeks, it was touch and go. Budge worried herself sick and did the only thing she knew to do, which was collect all my guns and have a friend of ours put them away for safe keeping.

That’s a funny story in itself because he is NOT a gun person and I’ve got a good many guns so he was trying to collect them without Keaudee biting his face off or one of the bad nasty pistols shooting him in the foot. He managed, but just barely. Of course, I didn’t know anyone was collecting my guns and I’m pretty attached to them so when Budge told me they were all gone temporarily, I was angry. Well, a little more than angry, but that’s another story for probably not another time.

My therapist was worried too. He’s shepherded me through a few rough patches, including the immediate aftermath of Mama’s death, but this was a new look from me. He told me at one point he was considering calling my psychiatrist who was ALSO extremely concerned. I’ve been Dr. Stephens’ patient for around eight years now and he told me later I was hands down the absolute worst he’s ever seen me. Both of them said they really wanted me to get some inpatient treatment, but after my last stay in a psych ward, they both knew I would have exploded at the mention of checking myself in and that I was smart enough to fool anyone they tried to use to have me checked in involuntarily. They were right, of course, on all counts. I’ve made it clear to anyone who’ll listen that frost will form on the hinges of Hell before I ever lose my freedom like that again.

So, eight weeks went by in a daze that wasn’t a daze. Here’s the irony of being in the midst of a psychotic break — you feel perfectly normal while thinking everyone else around you is batshit crazy. I had ideas and made up plans that sounded perfectly sound in my head, I mean some way out in ionosphere stuff, and I’d get all bent out of shape . . . well, moreso I guess . . . when anyone tried to point out how bad of an idea I had really come up with. That’s tough on me, but even tougher on the people around me. You may not believe me, but under the right conditions, your own mind can turn on you and try pretty hard to kill you if it can.

I cried a bunch, too. Of course, Budge said the crying wasn’t nearly as unnerving as the laughing. Sometimes, I’d just start laughing this absolutely maniacal laugh and she would get really quiet and turn kind of pale. This was especially hard on her because it was the first time I’d gone completely off the reservation and she didn’t have anyone to turn to. Before, she could always count on Mama to help wrangle me back around to the right path, but she was on her own this go round. I think she did just fine. She found friends and resources she didn’t know were around and people stepped up to help HER.

See, I’m a master faker. It’s a talent I picked up long time ago to deal with difficult situations. I can make someone who doesn’t know me think I’m right as rain and fine as frog hair when I’m actually in the midst of a major suicidal downward spiral. However, it doesn’t work on a very select group of people. I never could fake out Mama. Cook, my college roommate, could always read me like a book — even between the lines, and of course, after almost 20 years, I can’t get anything past Budge. It draws her down though, dealing with me. That’s what I mean by she had people willing to step up and help look after her and give her strength. I’m thankful for them for doing what by right I should have been doing when I temporarily lost the capacity to do for myself.

Then, the sky turned blue and unicorns started farting rainbows all over the place. For two weeks, I was not just back to normal, I was on the verge of a manic spell, which is almost as bad as a psy-break, just in another way. But now, things are settling down and that is where what I call the post-breakdown hangover comes in.

For awhile, after the danger has passed and your mind lets you out of the trap, you get this sense that everything is actually going to be okay this time. You think you finally did it and the dragon is slain and you are going to be normal at long last. Unfortunately, that initial euphoria wears off. Something pricks your balloon and sends you back to earth with a jar instead of a full on crash. That’s where I am now.

Instead of being back to “normal,” I’m back to “my normal.” I’m having a little trouble sleeping again. I have to remember to take my newest (4th) anti-depressant because it comes at a different time of day. Mama’s still gone. All the old problems are still there, they’ve just allowed themselves to be stuffed back into their carrying cases for me to pick up and carry on with. That feeling hurts. For a brief shining moment you get a glimpse of a life without any kind of depression or anxiety or other issues. Just for a little while, the sky is a spotless, cloudless blue.

However, just like I finally managed to let myself be led out of the valley, I don’t get to sit on the summit either. I wish I did, but that’s not how it works. So, I’m back to being me and not the close acquaintance living in my head who desperately would like to kill me for whatever reason. That realization always comes with a hint of sorrow and makes the recovery from such a terrible episode taste faintly bitter, and not bittersweet either.

So, the dragon just fell unconscious, but he’s not dead. I’ve heard the black dogs howling over in the distance — I know they are just reminding me that they are still around so I don’t get too cocky. It was eight years between episodes this time and they get worse as they go, so I’m hoping against hope this was the last one. Each successive round takes a little out of your soul and leaves you a little less whole than you were before, but for now, it is enough.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.

Seven Years a Blogger


WordPress just informed me I registered Grocery Store Feet seven years ago today. Just a couple of days later, I posted this for my first entry into the bloggosphere.

Ahh . . . Labor Day!

Labor Day is a most excellent holiday for teachers and others who work in the school system. It comes at just the right time . . . usually after the second full week of school . . . to give us a much needed rest. After all, it’s a gear-stripping, heart stopping jolt to go from the “lazy, hazy” days of summer to full throttle with a room or library full of students and a brand new year of expectations and goals — some reasonable, some, as Bogie said in The Maltese Falcon, “The stuff that dreams are made of.”
So, however you chose to spend today, I hope you got some rest in. We did here around the old haceinda. No picnics or partys, beach trips or barbecues, just sleeping late, catching up on reading and family and generally being good for nothing layabouts. Perfect day all ’round.
Tomorrow, though, it’s once more into the breach dear friends. I have a computer that is waiting on me and it will behoove itself to start acting appropriately lest I be forced to go completely Office Space on it.
Take care all. More to come later.

That’s it? I didn’t even have my usual, “Love y’all and keep those feet clean” sign off in place. Still, I think it’s crazy I’m still posting — erratically and on no set schedule, but still — after seven years. See, for me, plans are nebulous things. People will ask me what I’m doing when and where for some ridiculous amount of time in the future, like, you know . . . a week, and I just have to laugh. I do well if I’ve got tomorrow thought of. About all I know for certain is I’ll go to Clinton every Tuesday morning to check on Granny and sit with her awhile until she passes away or Gabriel blows his horn. I’m also 99% certain I will gorge myself to the point of immobility on Thanksgiving at the Hall homestead until I’m no longer invited. You get much past that, I’ve got a few murky days creeping around on my calendar here and there. No goals, no plans, no problems . . . if only.

Anyway, for me to be doing something seven years consistently is a pretty big deal in my life. That’s longer than all but one job I ever held and longer than any romantic relationship I’ve been in until I married Budge. In short, in MY life, seven years is a freakishly long time. Now I don’t claim to have improved all that much as a blogger over those seven years, but the fact remains . . . I’m still here. For me, that’s an accomplishment. So Happy Anniversary to the crusty feet and here’s to seven more — maybe.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

Don’t Call It Courage

Standard’m not going to win any popularity contests with this post, but I’ve heard all I can stand and stay quiet, and it’s probably some sort of record for me as it is. Bruce Jenner is not courageous and certainly never should have won an award for showing courage. I don’t have any problem with his decision to “transition” from a male appearance to a female appearance and make no mistake, all political correctness aside, it is a cosmetic change only. Hormones, plastic surgery, and laser hair removal will work wonders but they will only go so far. These days, if he really wanted to, he could even change his blood. It would be expensive, painful, and require radiation to destroy his present bone marrow, but he could conceivably change blood types. What he cannot do, however, is change his DNA. He was born with XY sex chromosomes and he will die with XY chromosomes and by any biological genetic definition I have ever seen, THAT makes him MALE. He may choose to LOOK female; he may choose to ACT female; but he will NEVER BE a female. That may piss a lot of people off, but it doesn’t change Jenner’s chromosomes.

Still, if that’s what the man wants to do with his life and his money, that is his right. What baffles me is why ESPN felt the need to pass over other, much more worthy nominees, to give him an award with “Courage” in the name. Actually, while we’re on the subject, the existence of an entire slate of awards called ESPYs baffles me. Sports have enough awards as it is without an endless parade of overpaid athletes trotting across the stage to make speeches and pat each other on the back about. What’s the point in that? Have we gone so far down the road of Roman decadence we need MORE bread and circuses?

Yet, if they are going to give an award, at least Arthur Ashe Courage Award seems one worthy of giving. For those who don’t know, Arthur Ashe was an AMAZING tennis star in the ’70s. He held the World #1 spot, won 35 career titles, and remains the only African-American male to win singles titles at Wimbledon, the US Open, and the Australian Open. Unfortunately, he had a heart condition that necessitated a bypass surgery and because of a blood transfusion during the surgery, Ashe contracted HIV / AIDS. This was at a time when AIDS wasn’t the household word it is now, but Ashe battled the disease with the same tenacity he showed on the court and even though complications from the disease would claim his life in 1993, his Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS and the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health remain as much his legacy as his outstanding tennis achievements.

So, yeah, he pretty much transcended sports, as the text of the award says, and since 1993, ESPN has awarded a current or past athlete who has also transcended sports in a similar way. For example, the first award in 1993 went to Jimmy Valvano, former head coach of the North Carolina State Wolfpack. “Jimmy V” guided the ‘Pack to an improbable NCAA Championship in 1983, but what he is most remembered for is the tremendous courage and humor he showed in his fight against metastatic cancer which cut short his coaching career and claimed his life just weeks after he received his award from ESPN.

Since then, the Arthur Ashe COURAGE Award has gone to people like Muhammad Ali for his fight against Parkinson’s Disease. In 1999, Billy Jean King won the award for her role in pushing forward women’s tennis to be the major attraction it is now. 2002 saw members of Flight 93 win the award posthumously for their bravery in storming the cockpit of the hijacked flight and probably saving either the Capital Building or the White House from destruction. Nelson Mandela won in 2009 and Pat Summitt, the winningest coach in NCAA basketball who now is battling early onset Alzheimer’s Disease won in 2012. So the committee has shown they can give the award to extremely deserving candidates who have truly shown great courage in and out of the sports arena.

So why is Bruce Jenner in the same company with Pat Tillman who abandoned a lucrative professional football career to die serving his country in the Global War on Terror? What has Jenner done that is so courageous?

Make no mistake, his athletic pedigree is second to none. Fifth place in the grueling ten event decathlon in 1972’s Munich Olympics and the world record setting gold medal performance in the same event in 1976 in Montreal will cement Jenner’s place in athletic history. But what has he done lately? Well, he was a C-list movie actor for awhile and then he somehow drifted into the orbit of the widowed Kris Khardasian and her insanely narcissistic brood. They married and added at least two more girls to a household which need a lot of things, but not more divas. Then, well . . . Bruce started looking “odd.” Tabloids picked up on it and soon enough the truth came out and so did Jenner.

Bruce was becoming Caitlyn.

My question is what is so courageous about that? Sure, there was a time it might have been courageous, but in today’s society, a public celebrity like Jenner had everything to gain and nothing to lose with his gender switch. God forbid anyone have the temerity to say something negative about a transgender celebrity in this day and age of rabid political correctness. If anything, this move has propelled Jenner out of the doldrums of his career as tenth fiddle to Kris and her girls and into a new career in his own right, but COURAGEOUS? How? General Mills made the mistake of calling “Caitlyn” Jenner by his given name of Bruce in a press release and social media BLEW UP! Where’s the courage involved when everybody in Hollywood has got your back?

Sure, if he was some confused kid in a podunk high school in Alabama or Montana and still decided to come out you bet your ass he would be worthy of being called courageous — suicidally courageous most likely. If he was any nobody, this would be courageous in the extreme, but he’s famous already and this is just making him more famous. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kris wasn’t behind it somewhere even though she’s acted so “shocked.”

To make matters worse, the committee awarding this ESPY passed over two incredible candidates. Lauren Hill was a college basketball player whose only dream was to play in a game in college. She played in bits of five games before she succumbed to an inoperable brain tumor. Noah Galloway is a double amputee Army veteran who STILL does Crossfit, runs extreme marathons, and just recently completed the Dubai Death Race across the desert. They finished third and second to Jenner respectively. Why?

In closing, all I can say is this was the worst choice of an award recipient since Barak Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize for getting elected President of the United States. I know the Nobel Committee would love to have that choice back . . . can ESPN say the same thing?

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

To Kill A Finch


I taught high school for ten years in a rural Southern country school that split about 50/50 in every demographic category from family income to race. In my years there, I tried to pound Romeo and Juliet, Beowulf, The Scarlet Letter, and many other “classics” of the “canon” into the heads of my students to little or no avail. They froze at Faulkner, swore at Steinbeck, spit upon Shakespeare, and freaked over Fitzgerald. Freshmen through Seniors, I taught them all and they were uniform in only two things: a deep, abiding hatred of every “canon” novel save one and a deep, enduring love of that one singular book.

That book, of course, is and was To Kill a Mockingbird, lovingly abbreviated in my lesson plans as TKAM, e.g. “TSWBAT id inferred MI in TKAM chapter 10.”I

No matter the level, race, gender, or present grade of the student, each loved To Kill A Mockingbird in his or her own way. We had some awkward — extremely awkward at times — discussions about race and slavery as one would expect, but we also had some fascinating talks about poverty and social hierarchy. One of my favorite discussions, and one which seems extremely prophetic given what’s going on in our country today, began with me asking the question of my class, “Y’all think anything has really changed since the time period in this novel?” What followed was a quartet of angry young black guys declaring that absolutely nothing had
changed and we spent the rest of the hour talking about explicit versus implicit prejudices and open versus hidden racism. One extremely articulate young man remarked he preferred talking to “rednecks” because “at least with a [Confederate battle] flag wearin’ redneck, I know where I stand. I KNOW what he thinks about me. Some of these ‘polite’ folk, I’m not so sure of.” Finally, when we were wrapping up the novel, several threads would develop, but the one EVERY class noticed was simple — Atticus Finch was a “good man.”

For five and one half decades, the opinion of Atticus Finch as “a good man” has reigned virtually unchallenged except for a few screwballs from either side of the Right / Left spectrum whom Jesus Christ would not be able to please. Atticus has remained the standard of what a lawyer should be, namely the defender of the weak against the strong no matter how foregone the conclusion to the struggle because – in the words of the man himself – it doesn’t matter if you know “you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” That is true moral courage. Few literary characters are held in the esteem so many hold Atticus. I know of no less than five teachers and professors who named their children Atticus because they hoped the name would convey their hopes for their sons’ characters.

Now it seems someone would sling mud upon Atticus’ good name. He who has stood for so long as the paragon of virtue and the sane voice of reason in a world of hate and innuendo is now subjected to what can only be described as slings and arrows of the most outrageous fortune. What makes this slanderous attempt to sully a good man’s reputation is made so much the crueler by its origin. The leader of the pack of dogs who would tear Atticus down from his rightly deserved pedestal atop the list of iconic and heroic characters is none other than Nellie Harper Lee, Atticus’ own inventor — his literary mother as it were.

After five decades of silence, an aging Harper Lee has once again taken the literary world by storm with her publication of Go Set a Watchman. She claims this is the novelTo Kill A Mockingbirdwas supposed to be all those years ago before an editor told her to make Scout younger. I have no idea. What I DO know is this latest novel assassinates Atticus Finch by turning him from a shining light of dignity and decency in Maycomb into a bitter, white robe wearing Klansman. Far from the heroic country lawyer fighting a losing battle against racism, Watchmanpaints him as possibly the most powerful force for racism in the town. As readers, we are left wondering…….WHY?

If this is the novel Lee intended to publish, she should thank the editor who blocked it. This novel is thoroughly post-modern in that it has no heroes, only degrees of villains; it offers no hope, only more despair. It’s as if, as Lee herself enters her dotage years, she insists on dragging Atticus with her.

Love Y’all and keep your feet clean!

# Throwback Thursday: I Hate Summer Passionately


This was originally posted on July 10, 2010 and, for the record, I haven’t changed my mind in the slightest.

I don’t know how long it’s been since I mentioned this fact, but I hate summer with all my heart. I realize that’s strange coming as it does from a good Southern boy, but I have two perfectly excellent reasons for despising this godawful season that everyone else apparently loves so dearly.

First of all, I am not a small man — not by a long shot. To be quite honest, I’m fat, large, obese, and several other words of varying denotation and connotation all pointing to the fact that I was born 10 pounds and 5 ounces and I haven’t missed a meal since.

Summertime was not meant for fat people. We sweat. Now some of you more proper individuals may “perspire” and some ladies may even develop a “delicate sheen.” Well, honey, I sweat buckets and right now, I’ve got the Zambezi River flowing from my hairline down my back to eventually puddle in and around my nether regions. That’s with the A/C “givin’ ye all she can Cap’n”. Any more strain on the venerable Trane and the dilithium crystals will probably blow and we’ll have to eject the warp core. If I go outside for long in this 100+ heat, you could render lard off my backside.

I hate to sweat. The only time I’ve ever CHOSEN to sweat is when I wrestled four years in high school. Then, sweating seemed to serve a purpose. Any other time, it just makes me miserable. Fat people were built for Arctic conditions. If you don’t believe me, when’s the last time you saw a skinny Inuit? (Nota Bene: “Eskimo” is a derogatory term, which I didn’t know until an exceptionally large Inuit man told me) Inuits live in the Arctic. Ever seen a svelte whale? Know why? It’s freaking cold in the ocean depths where they swim! Nature has selected against fat mixing with heat. Fat goes with cold; skinny goes with heat.

My second reason to despise summer is I am known in some circles as “The Man The Sun Forgot.” I don’t want to say I’m pale or anything, but people afflicted with albinism stand next to me to feel good about their tan. The few times I’ve gone cave exploring, my glowing body was the third emergency light source. Folks are always asking me why don’t I take off my shirt when I’m outside. The simple answer is the last time I removed my shirt outside on a bright sunny day, I got a call from Houston Space Center asking me to please cover myself because I was blinding the crew of the International Space Station and they couldn’t conduct their experiments.

You think I’m joking, but I’m not. I am WHITE and I am FAT. I went to the beach several years and many, many pants sizes ago and, even then, when I took off my shirt just for kicks, a big guy in a frock coat appeared out of nowhere and started chasing me down the beach waving a harpoon and screaming, “I’ve found ye at last! Thar she blows! A hump like a snow hill!” If that wooden leg hadn’t slowed him down enough for the beach patrol to grab him I hate to think what might have happened.

Now I realize many of my gentle readers have a simple solution to my lack of melanin; just lay out in the Sun a little and tan, right? Um, did you even read the first section about heat? An ex of mine once asked me to lay out in the sun with her. I told her if she wanted to break up with me, just say so. Even if I didn’t mind roasting myself like a suckling pig with pineapple rings and a Granny Smith in my mouth, there’s the little matter of blistering sunburn. During my childhood and well into my teens, the strongest SPF sunscreen was 15. I would get COOKED right through 15. It was like slathering butter on roasting corn ears.

Luckily for me, times have changed and sunscreen is now stronger. Still, if I want a decent chance at remaining non-boiled-lobster color, I have to wear Bullfrog 55 SPF and, no lie, I get pinkish through that after a couple of hours. Oh, and when I do burn, it doesn’t turn tan. Nope, most people are burn, tan, burn, tan darker. I am burn, peel, burn worse, get sun poisoning, peel some more, risk drowning in an oatmeal bath.

I’ve got a ton of sunburn stories, but I’ll tell one and let it go at that. When I was six, we had the first above ground pool I’d ever seen. Of course, Daddy didn’t bother to hook up the filter, so we had to drain it once a month to get the slime molds out of the bottom and refill it . . . but I digress. Two friends and I happily splashed around in said pool from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM. I hadn’t put ANY sunscreen on, but that was okay because I had my FAVORITE shirt of the moment on just like Mama had told me to do. (Well, she did tell me to wear a shirt.)jersey

This shirt was a real, live reproduction Clemson football JERSEY. Now for those who don’t know, this was 1977 and football jerseys back in the day had a “mesh pattern” which basically means I was in the Sun on one of the brightest days of the year wearing no sunscreen and a shirt complete with HOLES all in it! Now, I have a genius IQ, but as one of my best friends used to point out, I lack the common sense to get out of a shower of rain. I figured since I wore it like a shirt, it WAS a shirt, and it would keep me safe from the ravages of the sun.

It didn’t.

When Mama came home from shopping, she called us in the house (trailer, whatever). She took one look at me and burst into tears. I couldn’t see my back so I had no idea what was wrong. This was one time ignorance was not bliss. I had developed a water blister through each one of the hundreds of holes in the shirt. The shirt was literally fastened to my back and shoulders by water blisters poking through the holes. I went and stood in the shower under straight cold well water for thirty minutes trying to get the blisters to go down.

They didn’t.

Mama finally had to take the shirt off me. Just so you know, ANYTIME your mother tells you beforehand, “Baby, I’m so sorry, but this is really going to hurt,” you can bet your britches it is REALLY GOING TO HURT. Well, with water still pouring on me, Mama took hold of the hem of that jersey and snatched it straight up over my head in one classic “skin-a-cat” motion . . . and every one of those blisters ripped open and yellowish blister fluid started running down my back. If you’re wondering, yes, I cried. I cried like a baby. My back looked like steak tartare for a week. THAT, gentle readers, is just one of the many reasons why I despise summer, why I don’t go outside if at all possible from June to September, AND why I NEVER get into a pool unless it is DARK O’CLOCK!

Keep cool and wash those feet!

Love y’all!

Seventy Years on Suicide Watch


“‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.” Dr. Robert Oppenheimer.

Seventy years ago today, 15 July 1945, the world entered the Atomic Age with the successful detonation of “The Gadget,” a prototype atomic bomb device, in the desert of Alamagordo, New Mexico. Code named “Trinity,” the explosion crowned years of intense, sometimes maddening, more than once deadly, and always shrouded in I’d-tell-you-but-then-I’d-have-to-kill-you levels of secret research at Los Alamos, New Mexico; Oak Park, Tennessee; and Chicago, Illinois among many other places. It was a project so cloaked in silence and mystery the Vice President of the United States didn’t know of the Manhattan Project’s existence until shortly before he would be called upon to make the decision to use this terrible new weapon in combat against the Japanese.

The entire lead up to the test took on the quality of a March Madness office pool. All the physicists knew the device would work and go kaboom . . . THEORETICALLY. Empirically, no one, including them, had the faintest idea what was going to happen. The scientists placed bets on what would happen during the test. Most wagered on a specific “yield” the explosion would put off. One wag bet on a “fizzle” with nothing happening at all, which would have been ten kinds of disastrous, while a final optimist believed the bomb would go off and ignite the Earth’s atmosphere, incinerating the planet.

Now, we know what happened at the test. Books fill whole library shelves describing the Manhattan Project, the physics of the A-Bomb, and the results of Trinity. We also know that explosion, which turned the desert sand to green glass, ushered in the era of atomic weapons. Two of those weapons would end World War 2 in spectacular, if controversial, fashion. Still, that is not the ultimate legacy of the Manhattan Project and the culminating successful Trinity test.

What really happened in the desert that day in 1945 was the world purchased a revolver with six chambers and three mighty large cartridges. After the two bombs fell on Japan, the final cartridge would remain in the gun and that chamber would spin wildly for the next fifty years as nuclear powers like the USA and the Soviet Union played a dangerous game of Russian roulette with the world.

When that “gadget” worked, mankind, for the first time since God created us or we climbed down from the trees to stand on two legs, whichever scenario works best for you, now possessed the power of complete global annihilation. Before the Atomic Age, we might have been wiped out by a supervolcano explosion like Yellowstone or Toba. We may have bought the farm courtesy of a Texas sized asteroid hurtling into our planet. We may even have contracted some sort of disease no one could survive, but all those scenarios have a single thing in common . . . they are OUTSIDE forces.

With the coming of “The Bomb,” the decision of a few men could set in motion the end of the human race. We image-bearers of God or evolved monkeys now hold the power to kill everyone and everything on this planet except for cockroaches and, possibly, kudzu. I don’t know about y’all, but that is a staggering thought and one my generation was the last to fully appreciate.

See, I grew up in the ’80’s as a member of Gen-X. For eight long years, I watched Ronnie Ray-gun goad and cajole and threaten the Soviet Union into an unsustainable arms race which may or may not, depending on who you ask, have ultimately bankrupted and destroyed the USSR and with it, the USA’s only real rival in the world. Along the way, though, it looked more than once like a big crop of mushroom clouds was going to pop up all around the world as the USSR decided if they couldn’t win the Cold War, no one was going to.

I spent my tween and teen years watching movies and television episodes like Damnation Alley, The Day After, and Amerika. In junior high, we even had a War of the Worlds like moment when some local station started reporting Charleston Harbor and Naval Base had been nuked. It was another “docu-drama” but it scared the Hell out of those of us who hadn’t seen the previews. We knew we lived in a world that could end at any time just because someone on our side or their side got pissed off and pushed a button. We also knew, thanks to Mr. Stoddard and social studies, EVERYONE was going to die because no matter who shot first, the tons of nuclear “boomer” submarines in both superpowers’ navies would finish off whoever was left. I can’t speak to others, but I went to bed scared a lot of nights, but then I always was a sensitive child.

According to the Doomsday Clock, it’s three minutes til midnight.

So now, we are seventy years removed from Trinity. The Cold War is over; the remaining ICBMs safely pointed, we’re told, into the ocean. Can we really say we’re any safer though? A nuke remains the Holy Grail of every terrorist organization in the world. Just imagine if one of the planes on 9-11-2001 had carried a suitcase nuke instead of just a full tank of fuel. New York City might not be nearly as crowded. Also, remember, at the fall of the Soviet Union, apparently some generals had a “Nukes-R-Us” type yard sale because several small to medium “devices” are still unaccounted for. Where are those bombs?

If the idea of terrorists with atomic weapons doesn’t chill you enough, keep in mind the nuclear club has gotten a bit bigger since 1945. The Soviet Union / Russia joined up in 1948 followed soon after by China, the UK, and France. Now Pakistan AND India (who HATE each other BTW) are both declared nuclear powers. Don’t forget the lunatic in North Korea. He SWEARS they have at least three small nukes. Who knows for sure? Then there’s little Israel with their Samson Protocol. Sure, they don’t advertise they have nuclear weapons, but it’s a pretty safe bet they do and you can bet the house and kids if Israel is ever invaded or attacked by a nuclear missile, they WILL blow AT LEAST the Middle East all the way to Paradise and back.

Oppenheimer, et. al. let a potent genie out of the bottle on those plains of New Mexico. We’ve got the means of global suicide sitting beneath the Siberian and American Great Western plains. I just hope cooler heads always manage to prevail and if they don’t, then I hope I’m really close to the first wave of nuclear blasts because, as the man said, “It’ll sure hurt bad, but it won’t hurt long.”

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

Throwback Thursday: Snakes in a Jon Boat


This story was originally published January 27, 2010

When I was a teenager, one of my favorite recreations was fishing on the local farm ponds around my hometown. A buddy of mine named Scott had unfettered access to a nice fourteen foot jon boat and we had permission from several farmers to get in their ponds whenever we wanted.

Mostly, we fished at night for three reasons. First, this is the Southland in the summertime. Fish have sense even if people don’t; they lie deep and don’t bite much, if at all in the heat of a July day. Second, I am about half a gene from being an albino. Sunshine is not my friend. Finally, if you ever once hear a five pound bass explode through the surface to take a Heddon’s Hula Popper on a still night under the stars, you can say you’ve lived a good life whatever may come from then on.

This particular Wednesday night, Scott and I were joined by another of our buddies, Wishbone. We got on the pond just as twilight was turning into full dark. I was seated in back of the boat because I cast right handed side armed. Wishbone was in the front seat because he also cast exclusively side armed. Scott took the middle because he was a lefty and could cast very well with a traditional overhand motion. The arrangement worked quite well and we spent an hour catching and releasing small, strong bass and an odd bream or two with more guts than sense.

We’d worked our way around the edge pond and had reached the “neck” where the stream that fed the pond flowed in. Several large water oaks and a willow or two hung out over the water and at times we passed underneath these outstretched limbs to cast to the undercut banks that were home to the real lunker bass in the lake. All had gone nicely when I heard a distinct “thump” in the boat between Wishbone and Scott. Scott whipped around and shot me a desperate look in the light of the gibbous moon. I nodded wordlessly that I’d heard it as well just about the time the thing we’d dreaded most came upon us; Wishbone wailed out plaintively, “What just hit the boat?” Now Scott and I knew quite well what had made the noise. It was most likely a brown or “yellow bellied” water snake that had dropped out of the overhanging tree into the boat. They are big eyed nocturnal serpents and about as harmless as cold blooded, scaly kittens.

At this point, I need to tell you three things of great importance. One, we were in ten or twelve feet of water. Two, I’m five feet ten inches tall on a good day and I can’t swim a LICK. Some of you may have heard an old wives’ tale about how us fat people “float well.” Now I can’t speak for anyone else, but personally, I float like a ’54 Studebaker Conestoga station wagon. Third, Wishbone was mortally, morbidly, and totally terrified — nay, freaked completely out beyond all rational thought — by snakes. Any snakes.

At this point, the night got quite interesting.

Wishbone guessed the noise had been a snake. He snatched what must have been a WWII antiaircraft spotlight from his tackle box and, before we could stop him, cut it on and began searching for Zeros and Val bombers in the bottom of the boat. The only real effect the ten million candlepower flashlight had was to blind the three of us instantly, which sent Wishbone straight from granny, past second, third, and fourth right into fifth gear of panic. Poor Wish. He only knew two things at that moment: all he could see was red and yellow splotches AND he was in a fourteen foot aluminum jon boat with — to his tortured mind anyway — a Titanaboa. He lost all control. Still, IF the very bright flashlight had been the ONLY non-fishing item in Wishbone’s tackle box, we might have made it out okay.

It wasn’t and we didn’t.

My vision cleared just enough, just in time to watch a still-partially-blinded Wishbone stand up, pull a Charter Arms Bulldog five shot .44 Special double action revolver from his tackle box and point it at the bottom of the boat where he figured the anaconda had taken refuge. I managed to squeak “NOOOOO!” in a rather pathetic way before the calm night erupted in a thunderclap not once, but five times. The boy emptied the gun into the bottom of the boat. How none of us fell out of the boat in the midst of the confusion, I’ll never know, but what I do know is this — .44 Specials make BIG ‘OL HOLES in aluminum boats.

I guess the report of the gun cleared Wish’s head because he plopped down into his seat with a sheepish look on his face and watched five .44 caliber sized geysers jetting up from the bottom of the boat. Scott calmly reached over and took the gun from Wish and said, “Well, Wish, now the boat is going to sink and we’ll be in the water with REAL dangerous snakes like water moccasins and cottonmouths.” At this point, I chimed in, “Remember fellas? I can’t swim. AT ALL.” What Scott and Wish said next, I won’t print but it would have made Samuel L. Jackson proud.

In the end, we found out the boat’s “solid” seats were packed with styrofoam or some such floatant and, with a combination of bailing like mad and some Olympic class rowing, we made it to the take out point with two whole inches of gunwale still above water. All three of us were soaked to the bone but we’d saved the boat, saved the tackle, and, most important to my mind anyway, saved my fat rear end. Apparently, our reptilian interloper had made good his escape sometime between the shooting and the paddling. In any event, we never saw tooth nor scale of him. Once we got everything loaded up in the back of my little white S-10 truck, Scott walked over and patted Wishbone on the back and said, “Wish, I love you like a brother, I’d fight a circle saw for you, drive here to Texas to pick you up off the side of the road, and drain out the last drop of my blood to help save your life, but as God Almighty is my witness, frost will form on the Hinges of Hell before you EVER go night fishing in a boat with me again.”

Love y’all and keep those feet clean!

Great War Wednesday: Warfare Takes Flight

Standard back at the turn of the century
in the clear blue skies over Germany
came a roar and a thunder like I’d never heard
it was the screamin’ sound of a big warbird!
Snoopy and the Red Baron by The Royal Guardsmen

Little more than a decade after the Wright Brothers made their famous flight at Kitty Hawk, some enterprising young French or British lad with a certain skill at piloting these newfangled “aeroplanes” convinced his commander to let him take one up just to “see what the Huns were up to over the hill.” The commander obliged and the daring young man in his flying machine returned a little later breathless and excited at all the amazing intelligence he was able to gather for his fellow soldiers. Obviously, some enterprising young German lad saw that “reconnaissance flight,” as did HIS commander so the youngster had little trouble convincing a nearby officer to let him go fly over the Allied lines. He went and came back safely, and so began the earliest use of airplanes in warfare.

Things went along splendidly for a few months with almost daily flights over the lines by both sides. The pilots were quite chivalrous with one another and usually exchanged a wave as they passed in the air. They were enemies on paper, but kindred spirits at heart. Then, one of the nastier young men figured it would be good if only HIS side were able to fly over and spy out the other side’s troop movements so this cretin carried a Lee Enfield or Mauser K98 up with him the next time he went aloft and instead of waving at his fellow recon pilot from the other team, he shot the guy with the rifle which, of course, the other man found quite unsporting and he complained about it bitterly to himself all the way to the earth whence he crashed and died.

The offended side, and I like to think it was the British for reasons which will be clear in a moment, thought this shooting at another plane was certainly NOT CRICKET! (see, only the Brits say that) They decided to one up Fritz and did so by sending up a plane with an “observer” in a rear seat. Now, this observer happened to have a Vickers machine gun mounted on a swivel in his cockpit and this machine gun made short work of the first German recon plane the duo encountered. Now the cat was well and truly out of the bag. Pilots had decided, mostly amongst themselves, it was open season on each other and the arms race took off, quite literally. I cannot help but admire these first air warriors. I am terrified to think of flying in the most modern airliner the world has to offer so the idea of climbing into a jumble of wires, wood, and cloth with an engine out front . . . usually anyway . . . is to me nothing short of madness.

At first, the most daunting task facing the early aircraft engineers was how to best arm the new “fighter” type planes. The rear facing machine gun was a start, but the chance always remained that an overzealous “backseater” might track a trailing plane too literally and end up blasting his own craft’s tail off with predictably disastrous results for him and his pilot. What was apparent to everyone almost from the start was the finest place for armament was on the nose of the airplane. With guns on the nose, the pilot could fly the plane and shoot the guns resulting in fewer men in the plane and less weight. The only drawback to guns in the nose was the particularly pesky problem of the propeller. Early attempts established what most suspected, any attempt to fire through the spinning prop would result in shooting one’s own prop to bits with more predictably disastrous results for the pilot and plane since planes before the invention of the jet engine tended to fly quite poorly without propellers.

The first attempt to remedy the problem was put forward by a Frenchman named Roland Garros. His solution was to place steel plating on the propellers at the point where a bullet would otherwise strike the wooden prop. This method did work. Mssr. Garros shot down three enemy planes using the steel plate technique, but it did have one nasty bug. If a bullet hit the steel plate at the right angle, it would not zing harmlessly to the side but instead came ricocheting back at the pilot seated behind the gun. Since the bullet traveled much too fast for the pilot to duck, he would usually end up shot in the head with, again, predictably disastrous results.

As luck had it, a German engineer of some renown, Anthony Fokker, (yes, let the puerile joking begin) got hold of a crashed plane with the steel plates on the prop and realized immediately what a truly stupid idea the whole thing actually was. Within a few weeks, he presented the German High Command with his masterpiece — the interrupting gear. This was an ingenious device that wedded the shaft of the propeller to the firing mechanism of the machine gun. Essentially, it had a “bump” on the gear wherever a blade of the propeller crossed the plane of fire from the gun. The bump would “interrupt” or lock the gun momentarily so the blade could pass unharmed.

Once a German fighter equipped with the interrupting gear crashed behind Allied lines, It didn’t take long for the British to get their hands on one of Fokker’s inventions even though the Germans tried like the devil to keep it secret. Once both sides possessed the ability to mount guns firing through the propellers of planes, the true age of fighter aircraft began as planes still famous today like Spad, Albatross, and Sopwith began taking to the air flown by men of equal fame like Buck, Rickenbacker, and von Richthofen. Air power was out of the cradle and by the end of the war would give glimpses of just how awesomely powerful airplane mounted weapons could be as well as how crucial control of the air would become.

More about all those in later episodes!

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.