“Last Jedi” is My “Last Star Wars Film”

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last jedi

Words fail to describe how much I hate that stupid lightsaber!

Let me cut to the chase. The LAST movie I hated anywhere near as much as The Last Jedi featured midichlorians and Jar-Jar Binks. If any means of mind bleach existed I would wipe this excrement masquerading as a movie from my memory immediately. It’s taken me since Thursday night to calm down enough to write calmly about it.

This movie was horrible and a stain on the memory of the first three films. Lucas messed up the prequels himself so he bears the awful burden of those travesties, but I knew when the news broke that he had sold Star Wars to Disney that the crap was literally about to hit the fan . . . or a least the silver screen. I was not disappointed.

I didn’t say anything about The Force Awakens. I figured I’d wait and see. Maybe things weren’t as bad as my pessimistic mind figured them to be. I was wrong; it was worse. Far, far worse.

The Last Jedi is a two hour train wreck of plot holes big enough to drive a Star Destroyer through interlaced with incident after incident of deus ex machina.

In no particular order, here are some of the more egregious faults of the film. If, for some reason you still want to watch it, from here on out are spoilers.

  • Leia gets blasted off a ship into space (you know, vacuum, cold, etc?) instead of dying and relieving the next movie of a need to write the late Carrie Fisher out of the story, she wakes up, stretches out her hand and FLYS back onto the destroyed bridge of the ship looking just like Peter freaking Pan. No joke, I wanted to start singing “You Can Fly!”
  • Snope appears and is killed. No backstory, no idea who he is, no clue as to how he formed the First Order or even if he DID form the First Order. Two movies with him as a villain and we get nada.
  • Rey, despite only living on a completely desert planet somehow can swim.
  • Rey becomes a Jedi faster than anyone in recorded history . . . or at least since Luke Skywalker.
  • How does she get off Snope’s ship and on to the Millennium Falcon?
  • How did BB-8, despite being a rolling little bowling ball of a droid manage to climb into an AT-ST Walker and “rescue” Finn and Rose just in the nick of time?
  • Rey’s only lightsaber is destroyed. How is she going to make a replacement since she has no idea how to put one together OR where to get the proper crystals?
  • How does Finn, a lowly former basic Stormtrooper, know where EVERYTHING is located on a ship of a type he has NEVER BEEN ON?
  • How do Rose and Finn manage to get thrown in a cell with someone who JUST HAPPENS to know how to hack a ship he’s never seen?
  • If a ship hitting another ship at light speed causes as much damage as the last cruiser did, why didn’t they ram the previous two ships into the First Order fleet while they had fuel instead of just abandoning them and letting them be destroyed?
  • How does an incorporeal, Force-projecting Luke manage to duel Kylo Ren with a lightsaber that SHOULD be as insubstantial as he is?
  • What the crap is a KYLO? I know what a Darth is but KYLO??
  • And why does he have such a STUPID CROSSGUARDED LIGHTSABER?
  • How does Rey, with NO Jedi training at all manage to resist the Dark Side so easily when Ben Solo, trained by one of the greatest Jedi masters ever turn fairly quickly?

I could go on, but I won’t because I’ll just get pissed off again. I already feel my blood pressure starting to rise. It’s just things like those listed that made the movie a farce. The film ended creating more questions than answers as well. Like how is The Resistance going to reform since the entire remainder can fit comfortably onto the Falcon?

I also want to mention one last thing. I see online that lots of people are saying the “last” movie will leap ahead several years to explain how The Resistance rebuilds. Well, you can forget that. There is NO WAY Episode IX is going to be the last Star Wars movie and I’m not talking about standalones like Rogue One or the upcoming Han Solo film. The Mouse is all about making money and releasing a new Star Wars episode every two years is just like printing billions of dollars.

I predict for the foreseeable future Disney releasing a Star Wars universe movie every year at Christmas. Odd numbered years we’ll get a new “episode” and even numbered years we’ll get a stand alone like Rogue One, Han Solo, or the discussed Boba Fett stand alone. Disney is NOT going to stop milking a multi-billion dollar cash cow franchise like this anytime soon. The actors who play Rey, Finn, Rose, Poe, and most of the other main characters are quite young and can easily do several more films.

I imagine the next episode will be Rey gathering a group of Force sensitives to train as the next generation of Jedi, probably with some help from a Force ghost Luke and maybe even Yoda — since puppets don’t age. They’ll try to sell us stand alones starring Boba Fett, Yoda, Mace Windu, Darth Maul . . . anyone they want.

Disney owns Star Wars now so it’s no longer about the fans. They proved that when they unilaterally declared the entire Star Wars Expanded Universe to be null and void. With just a snap of the fingers they erased three decades of comics, cartoons, novels, tech books, role playing games, video games, web sites, and fan fiction. Does that seem like a company that is “fan friendly”?

No, I hate The Last Jedi. I only thought the prequels were as bad as it could get. Boy was I wrong. So my childhood died just a little more Thursday. I can only imagine how much worse the next installment will be.

So, with a heavy heart I declare that I love y’all, keep those feet clean, and if you decide to go watch this piece of crap movie, all I can say is, may the Force be with you.

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#TBT: Rest In Peace, Mr. Dupree . . . and Thank You.

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I originally published this six years ago on Pearl Harbor Day 2011. Please help me remember a terrible attack and a great, unsung man.

Seventy years ago today, the Empire of Japan launched a successful sneak attack on the US Naval Station at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Most of us know the bare facts of the attack. Most of us have heard of the USS Arizona and how she blew up at anchor from a well-placed bomb. Slightly over 2,400 servicemen and civilians were killed that day and the moment FDR had waited for — and some say helped orchestrate through intentional inaction — had arrived, America was entering World War II. We were over two years late to the party, but once we got the blood out of our eyes from Pearl Harbor, we made a big entrance.

As a young boy, I sat on a Coca-Cola crate in the back room of the Napa Auto Parts store where Papa Wham was the sole employee and listened as a group of older men lounging around on similar crates played checkers, told fish tales, and exchanged updates about their lives. These were members of America’s “Greatest Generation” who had grown up during the REAL Great Depression and who had marched off to battle in World War II. If I were quiet enough — difficult for me even then — so that the men forgot I was listening, I could get quite an education on some topics.

If, in between customers, Papa came back to the gathering ; however, to hear Mr. John regaling the crowd with a memory of a certain “ladies’ home” he once visited in France right after “The War,” Papa would clear his throat and the men would remember my presence and Mr. John, red-faced, would probably ask me if I would go across the street and get him a Coke and some crackers, which I was always glad to do. I was rather older and Mr. John had already answered the final muster before it occurred to me that I was being kindly “gotten rid of.”  One of the men who frequented those back room gatherings, though he seldom stayed very long, was Mr. Andrew Dupree — universally known, for reasons unknown to me — as “Gump.” To me, he was Mr. Gump, unless Granny Wham were around, in which case, Papa had instructed me to say, “Mr. Dupree.”

The men who gathered in Papa’s back room often reminisced about their service during the war. If the story was deemed mostly harmless, I would be allowed to stay and listen. Most often, however, I would be asked to go on a Coke and crackers run. One time, however, Papa was asked to let me stay for the story and that is why I heard Mr. Dupree’s eyewitness recollection of December 7, 1941.

Gump was a young sailor in the navy stationed at Pearl Harbor the day the Japanese attacked.

Papa Wham had placed his hand on my shoulder as soon as Gump said, “Today’s ‘boom-boom’ day, boys” in his usual low, sad voice, “been a long time now.” The hand on my shoulder was my cue to go to the cash drawer, get a fiver and go to Alverson’s Drug Store for Cokes. This time though, Gump caught me by the arm as I turned. Then he looked at Papa and I remember him saying, “Frank, let Shannon stay if you would. We’re getting old and someone needs to remember this.” I remember Papa nodded solemnly and slowly then sat down on the crate next to me. He put his arm around me and whispered in my ear, “Don’t tell Granny Wham, okay?” I nodded and turned to hear Gump tell this story.

Please remember I was 8 years old at most and my memory, while good, especially for stories, is far from perfect and in the end, I didn’t get to hear it all.

It was Sunday, as you all know, and I was on my way to chapel walking along the shore next to Battleship Row. Mother had worried that I would take up a bad lifestyle in the navy and made me promise her to always go to church whenever I could. We had all heard rumors about a possible attack, but that’s all we figured they were. I was just glad to be in Hawaii. None of us figured we’d stay out of the war forever, but we all thought when it got started for us, it’d be over in Europe.

So I had left the barracks about ten minutes before when I heard the first planes. I didn’t even look up because planes were always coming and going from the airfields around the islands. The first explosion knocked me over and that’s when the screaming and yelling started. I rolled over and looked up and saw the meatballs on the planes. The klaxon was sounding general quarters for the entire island. I wasn’t assigned to a ship yet because I hadn’t been there long enough. An older looking marine sergeant grabbed my arm and pointed towards an AA machine gun. He and I jumped in with a couple other guys and started shooting at anything we could.

I was scared shitless and was looking around everywhere. That’s when I saw some torpedo planes making runs at the battleships. You could see the fish in the water headed towards the ships. Everywhere up and down the harbor crews were trying to get the ships moving and trying to fight back at the same time. Didn’t do much good though. One of the torpedo planes strafed us after he made his run. We all ducked down but one guy took one of those bullets square in the chest. He exploded all over the rest of us. I had blood and pieces on me. Two of the other guys had some cuts from shrapnel. I just froze, but that old sergeant started slapping all of us around — we were a bunch of kids and God only knows how long he’d been in service — and yelling at us to get with it. He pushed the dead guy over to the side and got us all back up manning the gun.

That’s when the entire world seemed to blow up and go silent at the same time. We all flew against the sides of the dugout and it kind of stunned us all, even the sergeant. When I stood up, I saw a big ball of fire where one of the ships had been. I found out later it was the Arizona. I couldn’t hear. I put my hand to my ear and came away with blood. Corpsman told me later my eardrums had blown out from the shockwave.

The attack seemed to last forever. Planes were everywhere, bullets were everywhere. I saw several guys get shot down by strafers when they tried to run across the parade grounds. We couldn’t breathe from all the smoke and oil in the air. You couldn’t believe the smell. The smell was ungodly. Burning diesel oil, hot metal, burning skin. The burning skin was the worst. If you’ve ever singed your arm hair, multiply that about a million times.

We stayed hunkered down in that dugout and shot back until we ran out of ammo. Once it was all over, the sergeant told us — we could hear just a little by then — to get back to our units. I got back to the barracks and it was still in one piece. We had muster to see who was still with us and who wasn’t accounted for. We were kinda lucky and kinda not.

Once things started getting better organized, I was sent out with about six other guys in a small motor boat to search the harbor waters for survivors. We found a few, but mostly, we found parts. The whole time we still had that smell hanging over the water. I think I didn’t sleep or eat for two days. Just went around trying to put out fires, help find people — guys were trapped in some of the sunk ships — stuff like that . . . it was bad, fellas. It was real bad. I remember this one guy . . .

Gump’s voice caught in his throat and Papa laid a gentle hand on his back then told me to “go get Gump a Coke and some crackers.” I could hear the story of blood and gore, but these were the men of the Greatest Generation, stoic and strong; Papa would spare Gump the indignity of a child seeing him shed tears. It was okay for the other men to watch, I guess. They had stories too. They understood.

Mr. Dupree served with distinction in the Pacific Theater. I wish I could say his horror at Pearl Harbor was the worst thing to happen in his life, but that would be a lie. Gump’s life was filled with horror and tragedy even after he came home. When Papa and Granny built their home on Weathers Circle, Mr. and Mrs. Dupree lived across the street from them in a small, tidy white house. They had a son, Jack, who was about my daddy’s age, and had just had a baby. One of the neighborhood whispers was that Mrs. Dupree was “nervous” which was code back then for any mental illness from mild depression to schizophrenia.

One night, (this was way before I was born) Papa answered a frantic knock on the door to find Gump standing in his nightclothes covered in blood. He said Gump told him — rather calmly — to please call an ambulance, that his wife had “hurt herself.” As it turned out, his wife had taken a pistol and killed the baby in the crib, shot Jack where he lay in his bed, then shot Gump before putting the gun to her own head. I think she left a note saying she “wanted them all to be together forever” or something like that.

Gump survived; so did Jack. I can’t imagine the psychological scars they both carried. By the time I knew him, Gump lived in a small mobile home in a grove of trees off McCarter Road between Fountain Inn and Greenpond. Jack had moved away by then. I don’t know if Gump had any grandchildren. I just know he loved fishing. He fished every day except Sunday. Rain or cold didn’t stop him. Looking back, I imagine that’s the way he coped with all he had been through.

Mr. Dupree died May 7, 1983. I am certain of the date because it’s also my little brother Nick’s birthdate. Papa and Granny went to the funeral before they came to the hospital.  He dearly loved my mama; it upset him as much as it did Papa and Granny Wham when Mama and Daddy divorced. I know Gump never really got over the war or his wife’s suicide because the last December 7th before he died, he gave Mama a new purse with a letter in it. I’ve never read it, but it begins “Dear Lawana, Today is ‘boom-boom’ day.”

Mama said Gump was explaining some more things. That’s all she said.

Love y’all. Remember those who have fallen.

The Agony and Ecstasy of Christmas Lights

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tangled-christmas-lightsI love Christmas lights. I remember when I was little, Papa and Granny Wham would take me out riding every Christmas season to look at lights in Fountain Inn. We’d always ride out to a place called Stewart’s Lake. Now today, places like Stewart’s Lake are everywhere, but back then it was the only game in town. The entire yard was lit up like, well . . . a Christmas tree! They had elves and Santas and three or four Nativity scenes, just lights everywhere. It was breathtaking to my single digit eyes. I remember even then asking Papa Wham who put all those lights up every year. He said he didn’t know and I was amazed because Papa Wham knew everything.

I used to “help” Papa put the lights on their Christmas tree every chance I got. I would always be put out when he would put the lights on without me while I wasn’t there. I realize now I was as much help to him then as my big fuzzy Keaudie dog is to me as I try to accomplish the same task!

Papa and Granny had those big lights on their tree. If you didn’t clip them on right and they lay against the artificial tree, they’d melt the plastic “needles” to the bulb. Granny always worried it would start a fire. As for me, I blistered my finger more than once touching one of the bulbs while it was lit. You can’t buy those kinds of bulbs anymore; I don’t think the safety gurus would let them get by.

Now, I am responsible for stringing lights on my own tree and I appreciate Papa’s toil more and more as the years go by. For the last two years, Budge and I have been so proud of getting the lights on the tree that we dispensed with putting ornaments on afterwards. Actually, what happened was we were so tired and frustrated at finally wrestling the lights onto the tree, we stopped to take a break and go eat dinner and just never made it back. So we had a 500 light green lamp in one corner of the room for the past two Christmas seasons. This year we swore would be different.

This year, Budge and I had a plan. Now as anyone knows, a plan – no matter how well thought out and put together – never survives the first contact with the enemy. In this case, the enemy happened to be three 600 bulb strands of lights. These lights were troopers. We’ve had them for five years, which honestly is about a hundred years in Christmas light years, and, with a little tweaking each year, they answered the bell and looked great on the tree. Still, they were part of the plan.

Now our grand decorating plan called for me to get the lights out the Monday before Thanksgiving to inspect them and make sure they were ready to roll onto the tree the day following Turkey Day. For some reason, I put it off until Tuesday. Then I gently removed all three strings of lights from their cozy year long slumber lying perfectly flat and undisturbed on top of the Christmas tree box. I’m serious, I’ve treated these lights better than some people treat their children.

When the lights last made their appearance, every bulb shone brightly. All three strands worked beautifully. They should have because I spent three hours last year cannibalizing a fourth strand of its bulbs in order to make sure three strands would work. Given all the effort I had put into tuning the lights and carefully storing them, I felt confident I would have no problems this year. I’d simply plug in the lights, replace a wayward bulb or two and all would be well. Budge and I would put the tree up on Black Friday and the lights would just spiral right onto the branches.

Nope. My optimism was sorely unrewarded.

I took all three strands into the hall so I could lay them out straight one by one. I rolled out the first strand and plugged it in. Half the strand lit up. Now I don’t know why I did this, but I unplugged the strand, waited a few seconds and plugged it back in. I can only assume it was an instinct from my time working on computers and I was hoping to reboot them or something. Instead, the other half of the strand lit up and the first half went dark. So it was going to be that kind of a year, eh?

I have this tool. It’s called a Light Saver or something like that and it’s designed to “fix” strands of burnt out lights. I read about how it supposedly sends a “pulse” down the strand and “rewelds” the contacts or something. I used it to get all the lights going last year and I’m convinced the thing uses some sort of dark magic, but it works. So I get out the Light Saver and plug it into the strand of half lit lights. I give it a few clicks and — like a miracle — the strand lights up . . . for ten seconds, then it all goes dark. I tried the tool again and this time the strand lay there dark, unlit, and mocking me.

I had similar results with the other two strands of lights. What was leading me to question my sanity and the laws of physics is WHY!? I took these lights off the tree last year. I laid them out and carefully made sure each bulb was lighting up as designed. All three strands were perfect! Six hundred little bulbs all winked their beautiful soft yellowish white light at me. Then I ever so gently rolled each strand up on a reel specifically designed for the job, put them away atop the tree box, and they lay there undisturbed for a year.

Now, nothing. One strand which had been the brightest last year didn’t light a single bulb this year. The Light Saver’s magic would not avail me this season. I was looking at another marathon session of robbing from one strand to try making three strands into two. I teared up a little at the thought of sore thumbs and frustration from swapping bulb after bulb. Christmas wasn’t looking so bright anymore.

On a hunch, Budge and I went to Walmart after supper that fateful night. I was shocked to see 600 lights going for $20 dollars! Now I’m not one to throw stuff away, but I snatched up two 300 light boxes as fast as I could, paid, and hit the door to show Budge my find. Forget this whole cannibalization crap.

So, Saturday evening, we put the tree up. It’s our venerable but still serviceable 18 year old artificial we bought when we first moved out from Mama’s. It takes a little longer to put up now because I have to peer at the end of the branch for a few seconds to determine what color the single fleck of paint left on the wire is. Anyway, the tree went up without a hitch. Then came the lights. Oh the joy! I plugged the new strands in and they all lit up gloriously!

The lights went on the tree super easily too, because they were packaged in a zig-zag pattern that just perfectly matched the way Budge likes to see lights on the tree. It was amazing. Instead of schlepping a huge light reel around the tree and handing it off to each other, we just passed around a little handful of lights. What usually took the better part of an hour took us barely fifteen minutes this year. Budge was pleased, which was all I needed.

Now the tree is up and lit. All we have left to do is put the ornaments on her, but we ran out of steam Saturday night before getting the totes with the ornaments in them out to the living room from storage so it remains to be seen if we will have ornaments this year, but regardless, we have a well lit tree and I’ve already decided at the end of the season I’m taking these lights off, bundling them into a ball and taking them to Goodwill. I can swing $20 a year if it keeps my sanity intact!

Love y’all, keep those feet clean, and Merry Christmas!

500 Halloweens Gone

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luther95thesesOctober 31, 1517. The day wasn’t known as “Halloween” then but by the more formal “All Hallow’s Eve,” and it wasn’t a day for carved pumpkins and gathering candy door to door. On that day, 500 Halloweens ago, in a little known university town called Wittenburg in what was then Saxony, a mostly unknown monk with some reservations about Holy Mother Church’s way of doing business wanted to start a debate on some issues within the Church. In that pre-Twitter time, debates and discussions took place in the open air or in a lecture hall and if one wanted to debate something or other, he (and back then it was ALWAYS “he”) would post an announcement on the cathedral door with the proposed topic for debate and a time for the debate to take place. Following the custom of the day, that little known monk tacked a list of 95 topics or theses onto the door and waited to see what would come of it.

He couldn’t have known at the time, but the little known monk, Martin Luther, just tossed a pebble down a rocky slope and began a landslide we know today as the Protestant Reformation.

It’s important to note the name we’ve come to call this movement — The Reformation. Luther was a monk and quite an accomplished one. He loved the Church and the last thing he wanted to do was tear her down. Still, some aspects of the status quo were too egregious in his mind to ignore. He didn’t want to destroy the church; he wanted to “reform” it. His biggest complaint and the subject of much of his 95 Theses was the way the Catholic Church treated something called indulgences. Basically, indulgences worked like this: at that time, the Church held pretty much everyone who died went not to Heaven but to a middle state called Purgatory. A soul would stay in Purgatory until it had worn away the sins carried into death. Left to progress naturally, this process could take many centuries. It might be thousands of years before dear mother entered the Pearly Gates.

Enter the indulgence. The Church taught that for a price, one could purchase “merit” which could be applied to the soul of one’s choice in Purgatory. This merit would then be applied to said soul’s account and the application of merit would speed the soul’s journey on to Heaven. Instead of thousands of years, the purchase of indulgences could decrease mother’s heavenly journey to weeks or, for enough money, even days.

What this basically means is the Church taught and people believed one could basically “buy” one’s way into Heaven. This was a racket that would make today’s TV hucksters like Joel Osteen turn green with envy. It wasn’t even subtle. Poor people would spend their life’s savings to buy a piece of paper that assured they wouldn’t have to spend long in Purgatory but could count on a smooth, quick trip to Heaven. In the mystical game of Catholic Monopoly, the indulgence was a “Get out of Purgatory Free” card.

Martin Luther called schwachsinn on the whole racket. He claimed he’d read the Bible cover to cover and he couldn’t find ANY mention of the ability of the Church to even GRANT indulgences, much less SELL them. His radical idea was that the only possible way to Heaven was through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Sola Fide.

The Church authorities were less than pleased with Luther.

Turns out Luther had a whole plethora of ideas about how to change Holy Mother Church. The whole idea of clergymen being celibate? Forget that! Nothing in the Bible said a priest couldn’t marry and Martin Luther based everything he proposed or taught in the earliest days of the Reformation on Scripture alone. Sola Scriptura.

In a moment of sublime serendipity, Luther was having all these newfangled ideas at the same time as a brand new contraption called the “printing press” was beginning to catch on. That meant Luther didn’t have to write individual letters to get his message out. The printing press at Whittenberg turned out pamphlets Luther wrote by the thousands. Soon, Luther’s ideas about reforming the Church spread all across Europe and other towns began seizing the banner of the Reformation.

Now the Church authorities were REALLY pissed.

At this time, Luther was still a monk. Remember, he never set out to tear down the Church. He just wanted changes to bring her more in line with the Bible. Since he was a monk, he was ordered to attend a religious council called the Diet of Worms and defend his ideas before the authorities. He went to Worms even though he knew it could mean his arrest and if he was arrested he would probably be burned at the stake as a heretic.

For two days, Martin Luther defended his positions before hundreds of churchmen. He always appealed to the Bible. Finally, the head of the council had heard enough. He pointed towards the stack of pamphlets and books Luther had written before him on the table and told him he had one last chance — recant these heretical views or face the dire consequences.

Turning to the head of the council, Martin Luther gave the reply which has rang down the centuries and which ushered in the era of the Reformation to which almost any denomination of Christian not Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox owes its existence. He replied, “I cannot and will not recant anything. My conscience is captive to the Word of God and to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here. I. Stand. I can do no other. So help me God, Amen.”

He escaped Worms with the help of some powerful friends, but he would be excommunicated from the church and branded an outlaw for the rest of his life. It mattered little, though. The pebble tossed by the 95 Theses quickly became a full on landslide sweeping 1500 years of Catholic tradition before it. The Reformation had begun in earnest.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.

Great War Wednesday: Passchendaele

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PasschendaeleImagine drowning, not in water, but in mud. Not thin quicksand, but thick, sucking, grasping mud. Picture your mate up to his armpits in chalky quagmire. He’s been there two days now but you can’t reach him and he’s too weak to grasp a rope. He’s just slowly sinking into the mire and every time you pass he begs you to shoot him so he doesn’t drown in mud.

That is a word picture of the Battle of Passchendaele. Some battles become famous for their commanders, some for where they are fought, some for a new technological advance. All who remembered Passchendaele until their dying days remember mud.

The new tanks couldn’t traverse the muck; they simply sank into it and forced their crews to abandon them in the field and try to reach the safety of the lines without stumbling into the mud themselves. The only way to the trenches from the rear areas wound over a sinuous path of duckboards — basically pieces of board, wide as possible, laid out on top of the mud to spread out a person’s weight. Most of the boards were barely wide enough for two men to pass abreast. Fall, step, or be blasted off the duckboards and you’d likely end up in the mud . . . and then you stood a very good chance of dying from smothering in the crushing mire.

The battle, also known as The Third Battle of Ypres, began in July 1917 and stretched into November. It lasted a total of three months, one week and three days. Like most offensives of the Great War, its aims far exceeded the ability of the forces sent to the fight.

While initially, Ypres had been the hottest spot of the war, little had happened in the sector since mid-1915. As a result, troops on both sides had become somewhat complacent and adopted a live and let live type of existence. All that changed when the British commander, General Haig, took a notion into his head to destroy the submarine bases which lay along the coast of Belgium. Why he felt so strongly about attacking THOSE bases RIGHT THEN is lost to history, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it had something to do with the stranglehold the U-boats had around the British Isles. Perhaps he felt compelled to cut the head of the snake and end the U-boat threat. We’ll never know.

What is known is the attack began with the customary shelling by around 3000 British guns firing off about 4 million shells, which churned up the ground even more than it already was. Then the attack began. Then, about three days into the attack, the rains came. It rained more than the inhabitants of the area had seen in thirty years, at least, and did not stop for the entirety of the campaign. The ground turned into glue as the abundant water had no were to drain to and so continued to saturate the battlefield. The soil around Ypres is heavily mixed with chalk and the water simply made soup of the entire area. The mud swallowed up guns, tanks, men, horses, and pack mules. Horrible doesn’t begin to describe it. Passchendaele was the ultimate culmination of the misery of which was trench warfare.

Truthfully, I don’t feel compelled to write up the specifics of the battle for one reason. By this point, if you’ve followed any of my other posts on the Great War, you KNOW how the battle went. The British, later joined by Canadians and ANZACs, shelled the hell out of the German front lines then went screaming over the top, dashed like madmen across no-man’s land, captured the front line of German trenches, whereupon the Germans would launch a counterattack and push the Brits back across the killing zone to their trenches. Just like every other battle of World War I from the Battle of the Frontiers until the stalemate broke in Spring 1918 and things started moving again.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

The battle was a tactical and strategic failure all around. To gain five miles of ground, which included the nearly destroyed town of Passchendaele that gives the battle its name, Haig sacrificed 275,000 soldiers of the British Empire. German casualties weren’t much lighter with 200,000 of the Kaiser’s men destined to never see the Fatherland again. Five miles at the cost of half a million lives.

Probably the saddest commentary on the battle is the fact Haig was under tremendous pressure from the British government to stop the attack during the entire duration OF the attack. Prime Minister David Lloyd George would later write in his memoirs of the war years that the only reason the campaign was allowed to continue at all was because they HAD to attack SOMETHING and no one could come up with any better ideas than what Haig proposed.

Just imagine if you were a British soldier and you knew that fact. You are dying in the mud simply because a bunch of old men can’t think of a better place to spend your life.

Siegfried Sassoon, the brilliant British war poet, wrote about Passchendaele in one of his works called “The Memorial Tablet.” The first stanza reads:

Squire nagged and bullied till I went to fight,
(Under Lord Derby’s Scheme). I died in hell –
(They called it Passchendaele). My wound was slight,
And I was hobbling back; and then a shell
Burst slick upon the duck-boards: so I fell
Into the bottomless mud, and lost the light.

Drowning in mud for five miles of ground. If that doesn’t sum up the horror of war, I don’t know what does.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.

 

Orange Crush

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SyrClemMy beloved Clemson Tigers went down in ignoble defeat last night to the, supposedly, lowly Syracuse Orange by a score of 27-24. This after we started the year as the defending national champions and sporting a six win, no loss record on the season.

Now, this is a bad loss with no way to spin it at all. Well, our starting quarterback DID sustain a concussion before halftime, so there’s that, but with the defense we were supposed to have, Syracuse should have never been able to run up and down the field on us the way they did. Of course, that’s why what’s on paper matters so little in the big picture. On paper, this was a yawner by halftime.

That’s why they play the games anyway no matter what the paper says.

I feel a kindred spirit with dear Oklahoma now. It was just last week the mighty Sooners lost to the disregarded Iowa State Cyclones. OU was number three in the polls and predictably tumbled many spots down. Clemson will no doubt follow a similar freefalling path . . . as we should.

Now I’m writing about this somewhat because of how embarrassing it was to see my alma mater lose a game they should have won, but mostly, this is about college football in general. Budge and I were having a conversation over lunch today about college football fans. I know several people who are voracious Clemson fans. They go to home games and tailgate and even occasionally make a drive to a closer away game. All of them that I know have one thing in common — they all went to Clemson.

What I can’t understand no matter how hard I try is why some people are such rabid boosters of a college THEY never attended, THEIR CHILDREN never attended; in fact, no one in their FAMILY has ever attended. I know some people who are Alabama fans. Now granted, Alabama has been a number one program in the country for years so lots of people are going to jump on the bandwagon, but many of the most fervent Crimson Tide fans I know never graduated from a community college but if you ask them their “blood runs red and white, ROLL TIDE!”

Why?

My own father HATES Clemson and that’s where I WENT TO SCHOOL! You’d think that would garner the Tigers some paternal loyalty, but he is a devout fan of the USC Gamecocks who are the Tiger’s arch-rival in the lower part of the state. It kind of stings a little, to be honest.

Now I would rather have won last night since winning is generally preferable to losing, but it hasn’t really affected my day much. I did make a post on Facebook about how sad I was we were beaten by a FRUIT FLAVORED MASCOT! Other than that though, I haven’t really thought about it. Yet I know one guy I’m almost dead certain was at the game last night in New York. He probably drove up Monday and has been tailgating all week. He is a RABID Tigers fan and he never sniffed the campus. Neither did his children. I’ll bet you he is LIVID right now. His month is ruined! In the past, Clemson losing has caused him to evaluate his life choices and nearly lose his will to live.

Why?

How can people get so wrapped up in a child’s game? A scandal breaks out at one of the major schools and people seem incredulous. That’s ridiculous! When you have an entity generating the amount of revenue big time college football brings in OF COURSE you’ll have people willing to cheat to win. For some ADs and coaches it’s a matter of job security. One could be making bank on Friday and if enough of the money pumping boosters get angry, he could be looking for a U-Haul by Tuesday. It’s savage and it’s just a game.

People are just that way though. I suppose with the chaos reigning in pro football the last few weeks more people are drawn to the “simpler” college games to scream at like banshees. Why? I don’t know. I just hope Clemson gets their act together before we have to play NC State or they’re going to kill us!

Love ya’ll and keep those feet clean!

Heartbroken

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81cP1M78phL._SY355_Another huge piece of my adolescence is irretrievably lost to the world. Tom Petty, front man for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, has died at the age of 66. First Prince, now Tom Petty. The Eagles have begun dying off. Basically, all my good music is slowly falling forever silent.

Petty was one of my favorites. His vocals complemented the sound of my ’69 Chevelle’s 396 engine extremely well and I blared him and the Heartbreakers as loudly as my Sparkomatic 6×9 speakers would let me. He had great songs; songs which spoke to a teenage boy in the midst of figuring out life wasn’t what he’d been told it would be. Songs like “Here Comes My Girl” captured the young love I felt for more than one young lady back then.

My personal favorite Tom Petty song was one of his later ones off his album Wildflowers called “You Don’t Know How It Feels.” It came out in 1994 and the line from the chorus, “You don’t know how it feels to be me,” nearly made me come out of my seat the first time I heard it because is so encapsulated how I felt just out of college with no job, no prospects, and — it felt like — no friends to speak of. I’d drive around in my little white S-10 pickup truck and play it over and over. Sometimes, I still listen to it and it still hits home . . . some days more than others.

Tom Petty had the good fortune of being at the zenith of his fame back when MTV launched and actually played music videos, if any of you can believe MTV did play videos. He had some fascinating and intricate videos I remember well. One, “Don’t Come ‘Round Here No More,” was downright horrific as a distraught Alice was chased through a psychedelic Wonderland ruled by a Mad Hatter with Petty’s face. Several scenes were surreal but the closing shot of Alice, having turned into a girl shaped cake, being devoured by the denizens of Wonderland scored highest on the creep-o-meter.

I also remember “Into the Great Wide Open” as a four minute cautionary tale about seeking fame and fortune only to find it all to brief. In that video, a young, fresh faced Eddie gets off the bus in Hollywood. In the course of the song, he meets a girl who teaches him to play guitar, gets a job as a doorman at a club, and starts trying to make it in the music business. What the video shows that the lyrics don’t quite make as plain is Eddie and his lover actually make the big time . . . at least for a little while before it all comes crashing down around him as he takes his place as a one hit wonder on the scrap heap at the end of the boulevard of broken dreams.

For all his amazing music, I can’t help but feel sorry for Tom Petty in a way though. True, he went out on top of his game — his last three shows of what was to be his last ever tour sold out completely. His fans never deserted him. Unfortunately, he ended up not getting what he hoped for in his golden years. In one of his last interviews he remarked that he and his fellow bandmates were all “on the backside of our sixties now” and it was time to stop touring and settle down. He talked about how he wanted to spend time with his grandchildren and take it easy for awhile.

Now, he won’t get the chance.

Instead, he, George, and Roy can start a jam session while they wait on the rest of the Traveling Wilburys to arrive at the great concert venue in the sky. Rock on Tom.

And for the rest of you all, remember I love you and keep those feet clean.

In Memorium: Another of the Good Ones Dies Young.

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I originally published this five years ago the day I heard April had passed away. I’m reprinting it now in her memory and her honor.

AprilSeventeen years ago I started my first teaching career at Woodmont High School with two classes of English IV and four classes of English II. One of the students in one of those sophomore classes was a little slip of a girl. She was blonde and blue eyed and cute as a button. She didn’t have much to say on the first day, and to be truthful about it, she wasn’t very talkative the entire time I knew her. Her name was April Pruitt and because of a quirk in scheduling, she and many of her classmates from that first sophomore class would be in my English III class the next year and would finish up with me in English IV the year after that. I guess about a third to a half of the WHS class of 1998 had me for English as sophomores, juniors, and seniors. They were the first of my favorite students and quiet, short, but smiling April stood tall among the ones nearest and dearest to my heart.

April wasn’t college bound. She graduated and went into the workforce. From all I’ve been able to ascertain, she held down her job well. Like many of my former students who stayed in this area, I would run in to her at the grocery store or WalMart from time to time. When Facebook came out, she was one of the first of my former students to “friend” me and using that wonderful network of Mr. Zuckerberg’s, we kept in touch over the last few years. Like a great many of her classmates at Woodmont, she never married, but she did have a devoted boyfriend and two beautiful little boys who looked remarkably like their mother.

I never heard anything from or about April these last seventeen odd years to worry me like I had to worry about so many of my former students. She steered clear of drugs as far as I can tell. The picture at the left was taken in April and her face shows none of the ravages an addiction would create. She wasn’t a heavy drinker or a wild party girl.  I don’t even know if she smoked cigarettes or not. Every picture in her Facebook album shows her happy and laughing with friends or, even more often, with her two boys who were obviously the apples of her two eyes. I was more than a little proud of her because she was successful in the quiet, steady way that is so typical of a Southern woman. She was 32 and doing well for herself and her boys.

Until a week ago Friday when she had her accident. From what I can gather through Facebook and other channels, she and her boyfriend were riding his four-wheeler — sans helmets, of course and unfortunately — when they lost control of the ATV while going at a pretty fast rate. Apparently, her boyfriend was able to hang on to the machine and let it bear the brunt of the crash, but April was thrown from the back and flew some distance through the air before landing hard on her head and neck. She was rushed unconscious to the hospital where she spent the last week in a coma with swelling on her brain. I planned to go to see her in the hospital every day last week, but something constantly seemed to come up. Now, I won’t get the chance. April passed away early this (Sunday) morning. She fought hard, but she never regained consciousness.

For several years, I kept a list written on an Olive Garden napkin of all the students and former students I had lost over the years. It was on such a medium because several of my former colleagues and I were at Olive Garden on the last day of school one year discussing the “Woodmont Curse” which seemed to take at least one or more of our students each year. In just the short time I was at WHS, I put nearly 20 names on the list. By the time the napkin disappeared, it held over thirty-five. If I still had it, the total would be somewhere around 42. Forty-two lives cut tragically short by disease, accidents, suicide, and several other reasons.  I knew each one personally and very few of them were nearer and as special to me as April.

I wish her family, especially her boys, able to find peace. I don’t pretend to have anything wise and transcendent to say. I don’t have the answers I once thought I had. All I know is one more little sliver of my heart will join many others in graves, tombs, and even at sea in places far and near and the world will be all the poorer for having lost such a lovely and smiling light.

In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, Resquiescat In Pace, April. Coach Wham will miss you.

#TBT Friday Night Lights Shine on the Friday Night Blues

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I originally published this five years ago. With this being my tenth year out of teaching, I thought it was a good time as any to run it again.

In the five years since my last teaching contract renewed and I left education, I have endure a crippling wave of sadness during the first week of “back to school.” That sadness is never more acute and I never have to struggle harder to keep bullets out of my head, poison out of my system, or my car at the top of cliffs rather than the bottom than at six o’clock on the first full schedule Friday of high school football.

If you’ve never taught in a high school, I can’t adequately describe for you how important Friday nights are, especially here in the Southland. Any school with a football team is a beehive all day on Friday as the guys (and a girl or two) walk the halls in their jerseys and the cheerleaders wear their non-dress-code-conforming uniforms to school. The day is spent making plans for who is riding with whom to where and who is bringing the illicit substances to the bonfire or house party after the game.

I used to eat up every moment of it. Every Friday for the fifteen years I taught, I was young again for ten Fridays in the fall and as long as my school’s team managed to stay in the playoffs. The kids used to take me back to the Friday nights when my friends and I were the ones planning. From my freshman year through my junior year, I went to more games than I missed. I even went to a game or two my senior year even though the taste of bile and ashes had replaced the once-sweet euphoria by then, but that’s another story.

Several of my friends of those days were football players and one of my lasting regrets is never having tried to get on the team. I was acquainted with many of the cheerleaders and wrote essays for more than one of them so they could keep good enough grades to stay on the squad. My best buddy at the time, Robby, was first trumpet in the band, so I always sat as close to the band as possible. Another regret is never trying to get in the band. I guess I can chalk up my lack of participation to a few things. Some are gifted with athletic prowess and some with musical talent. My gift was, and is, memory. Some call it a gift; I lean more towards curse and agree with the Absurdist playwright Samuel Beckett when he says

“Memories are killing things. So you must not think of certain things, of those that are dear to you, or rather you must think of them, for if you don’t there is the danger of finding them, in your mind, little by little.”

God knows I don’t miss much about high school, but I do miss Friday nights. For those aforementioned years in education, I got those Friday nights back, especially the few years when my schools were desperate enough for warm bodies to ask me to be an assistant football coach. I have a painfully entertaining story of my first game as a JV football coach which involves me, an away game, and a whistle. Maybe I’ll tell the entire story sometime, but for now suffice it to say we lost the game and the night in general was a cascade of fiascoes one atop another. Actually, that phrase pretty much describes my whole football coaching career. Still, it was a lot of fun.

Now though, I’m a civilian. Here it is 6:30 on the first big football Friday. Oh, I know I could go to a local game anyway, but it’s not the same. Something about plunking down your teacher id and walking in the gate for free just adds a special sweetness to the night. The greatest reward, though, is the smiles on the faces of the boys on the field when they catch sight of you on the track or in the stands. Little Johnny may have been the bane of your existence in second block all year, but come Monday, when you tell him how awesome his one tackle of the night was, you’ll have him in your back pocket. Trust me on that one . . . I know from experience.

Go out and pull for your favorite teams and take care everyone.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

My Opinion of Being Here

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I got to thinking the other day – always a dangerous event – about the myriad twists and turns my life has taken. I started at the here and now and wound my way back to that fateful day, January 6, 1971, when I made my entry into the world. I noted how some of it has been rather good and other has been rather bad. I even slept on my thoughts for awhile because I wasn’t certain I wanted to publish my conclusions since I have no idea how people would take my findings. Eventually, as this post bears witness, I just decided no one would care one way or another what I put so here is my final analysis: I have absolutely no business being alive.

Now, this isn’t a post designed to race to the deep black hole of morbidity and self-flagellation. I have no plans on ending my earthly existence at the moment. No, I am simply exploring cause and effect, action and reaction as it pertains to me arriving at this particular moment in time. The fact I am here is nothing less than the monument to a disaster of train wreck proportions. Allow me to explain.

It all started, as near as I can sift out from various second hand sources and some recollections given to me years ago by the principles in this endeavor, in the year of our Lord 1965 at a local hangout known as Curry’s Lake. Curry’s Lake was more of a pond than lake and it was designed more or less as a public swimming pool. From what I’ve been told, stands stood around the lake selling concessions and other items of need to what was essentially a teenage clientele.

One particularly hot and fateful summer day in 1965, a thirteen year old girl sat on the sandy beach of Curry’s Lake cavorting and conversing with her circle of friends while letting her gaze roam over the crowd. That barely teen-aged girl was Lawana Hughes and in the fullness of time, she would become my mother. This sunny summer’s day, however, future maternity I’m sure was the farthest thing from her mind. Her thoughts were directed to the top of the hill which separated the lake from the parking lot.

Beginning the descent down said hill was a fifteen year old lad with nearly white blond hair, a stocky build, and a cigarette at a jaunty angle on his lips. He was, if the stories are accurate, attired in white jeans with a navy blue t-shirt for a top, looking for all the world like the second coming of James Dean, or so I’ve been told by others. He too circulated in the center of a group of similarly dressed boys all walking down the hill surveying the surroundings like so many feudal lords. Some of the boys in the crowd were at Curry’s Lake to meet female companions but the young man in question was presently unattached and oh how my burdens would be lighter had he remained so. His name was Frank B. Wham, Jr. and he was destined to be my father.

Wannie, for so my mother was known, and Frankie, to distinguish daddy from Papa, met that day. I have no record of their conversation but apparently it was riveting enough to ensure they would meet again. So, in a short time, Wannie and Frankie became boyfriend and girlfriend. Picture this, a 13 year old girl and a 15 year old boy, both dissatisfied with the way things were going at home, come to lean on each other to the exclusion of others. If this were not a recipe for disaster then I’ve no idea what would constitute one. From the beginning the differences in their backgrounds and home lives would dictate this was a bad idea and maybe one day I’ll go into more detail why, but for the moment suffice it to say this was not a joining of equals and more’s the pity someone with sense didn’t see it coming . . . or maybe they did and just felt powerless to stop it. I’m damned if I know.

In any event, Frankie and Wannie were together as much as decency and schedules would allow. Frankie lived up the road in Fountain Inn while Wannie lived in Gray Court. They would go on dates (who goes on dates at 13?) together with friends or alone in Frankie’s car. They had fights and as teenagers will do they would break up now and again vowing to never speak again. I can only imagine if those vows had held.

I don’t know how things would have turned out had the two youngsters been left to their own devices. Maybe they would have stayed together and married much or at least a little later when youthful fires are cooler and good sense prevails. Perhaps they would have split up irrevocably, gone their separate ways never to reunite. It’s a moot point because after two years and some odd months of dating, events conspired to cast the future into stone and erase any chance of what might have been.

The short summary of a lengthily story is Frankie got into a spot of trouble with the law one night after drinking a little more than was advisable for him. I shun the details in this telling because they really aren’t important, I don’t know from first hand accounts exactly what happened, and the outcome is all that really matters anyway. The trouble Frankie got into landed him in front of a magistrate who, for what perverse reason I couldn’t begin to fathom, decided Frankie needed a lesson. His lesson came in the form of a choice of punishment — he could either risk a trial that might result in a prison term or he could enlist for two years in the armed forces and “all would be forgiven.” That’s how Frankie became Private Wham, US Army.

On the surface this arrangement doesn’t seem so bad. A two year enlistment didn’t amount to much when weighted against prison, right? It was a no brain decision. Unfortunately, as these things always have, there was a little catch. This was 1968, the absolute height of the complete cluster known today as the Vietnam War. Being in the regular army in 1968 meant one simple thing — you were going to spend 13 months in Vietnam where boys were being killed and wounded by the thousands every week. What looked like a way out was tantamount to a death sentence. Frankie . . . Daddy was screwed and no one lifted a finger to help him until it was entirely too late.

Here’s where the train jumped the tracks. Wannie and Frankie decided to make a bad situation exponentially worse. Both were convinced Frankie was going to his death in Vietnam and would never return so they decided the absolute best thing in the world to do would be get married. Frankie was just past his 18th birthday and Wannie was just about to turn sweet 16. So . . . they got married on Wannie’s 16th birthday — December 27, 1968. Frankie left for basic training just a short time later.

My question is simple. Who was steering this catastrophe? I love my four grandparents more than anyone I’ve ever loved. They all walked on water in my eyes and I’ve never thought any of them capable of being anything less than perfect until I started thinking about this disaster that directly got me on this ball of rock. They could have stopped this mess. Wannie couldn’t legally marry in South Carolina at the time. She would have had to be 18. She was 16, really 15 until the day of the wedding. Whatever possessed Granny and Papa Hughes to sign away their permission for her to wed?

Now I know for a fact the two lovebirds had threatened to sneak over the state line to Georgia where the age of marriageable consent was only 16 at the time and I’ve been told Papa and Granny Hughes felt they didn’t have a choice because they didn’t want Wannie running off and getting married. WHY NOT? It’s called a childish bluff! If they want to run off, MAKE THEM RUN OFF! Don’t pave the rough road ahead and make it easier. In the name of all that’s holy why didn’t one or the other set of parents stop this craziness? These were children who were operating under stress and emotion. Someone SHOULD have done something. . . but no one did anything and here’s what happened.

Frankie and Wannie got married on her 16th birthday. Frankie went off to war. Wannie dropped out of school where she was a straight A student with some money set aside for college because according to the draconian codes in schools at the time a girl couldn’t be married and attend school. So Wannie’s chance at a good education went the way of the Great Auk and she went from dead end job to dead end job for most of the rest of her life. I coached her to get her GED during my senior year of college.

Frankie had it worse. He ended up in the middle of Hell on earth in the most unpopular and worst run war this country has ever fought. He saw friends killed and maimed in the worst ways possible. He slept in heat and mud like we’ve never seen here and no one could tell him what he was fighting for and what his friends were dying for. He survived, barely, but the man who came home bore no resemblance to the boy who left.

While Frankie was on leave from Vietnam waiting to go to West Germany for the second year of his enlistment, I was conceived. I will spare you the details, but one interesting thing about my journey to the world . . . Mama was in a body cast from the belly button down. The doctor actually had to cut an arc in her cast so I could grow. I often thought about asking Mama or Daddy about the mechanics involved but I always decided it was one of those multitude of things I was better off not knowing.

Fast forward a year and a half. I’m born, Daddy’s home from the army. Mama is raising me. It was sweet and peaceful while it lasted . . . at least I guess it was because to be brutally honest, I don’t have a lot of memories from Mama and Daddy being together. Things jolted along until I was five, but the deep cracks had already formed. Daddy wasn’t the man Mama married and try as she might she couldn’t get her Frankie back. Daddy met another woman. He liked her better. He and Mama divorced when I was eight and the wheels fell completely off the apple cart. Mama was 23 and Daddy was 25 when they divorced.

All because Romeo and Juliet had to get married and no one had the guts to stop them. No one was thinking about me at the time but in the end, I’M the one who bears the heaviest weight. Sure, it bothered other people. Mama was never the same and I spent forty years trying to fix what the divorce did to her. I was so angry with Daddy that he and I never have managed a good normal father son relationship. But I’m the one who lost my childhood. I’m the one who had to take on responsibilities I didn’t understand and couldn’t hope to bear up under. It’s been forty years and part of me is still angry.

It all could have been so easily avoided if someone had just stopped the marriage. Daddy would have come home and he and Mama probably would have realized how different everything was now and they likely never would have married and I’d have never been born . . . and how different that would have been, but no one stepped up, so here we are.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.