Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"Let us now praise famous men"; In Memory of a Great Man

This one is hard to write.

I rise to honour the memory of a great man; my friend, Leroy Yarbrough.

I can't speak for the ladies, but for men, male role models growing up are a critical part of our development. We watch them; we want to be like them; we emulate them.

When the role model is a positive one, we owe them a large debt of gratitude. If, as adults, we can also count our role models as friends, that means even more.

Leroy was the Minister of Music at Trinity Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas, during the 1960's and 1970's. He was a strong influence for literally hundreds of young people (including me), an impeccable role model; indeed, the strongest male role model in my life after my Dad, his father, and Robert's Dad. He served that role for ALL of us in the youth choir (125 strong at all times), and was a friend and companion to all the adults with whom he had contact.

He was a true Southern Gentleman, a Christian of the highest order (I don't throw that one around lightly).

Leroy had more energy than anybody I have ever known. He was "more fun than a barrel of monkeys"; always instigating some kind of fun activity, always cracking jokes, always clever and witty.

He was an absolutely brilliant musician. The finest. He had impeccable taste and class, was a fabulous organist, and fantastic conductor. He was also one of the most organized people I've ever known.

He was born and raised in Georgia, married his high school sweetheart (the only woman he ever dated) Edwyna, and they had two nice little girls, younger than me, Melody and Gina.

After he left Trinity, he wound up at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in New Orleans, where he influenced ANOTHER generation of young people.

He retired and planned to just come "home" to San Antonio and live, but First Presbyterian was without a Minister of Music and begged him to come on an "interim" basis while they searched. The "interim" stint lasted 11 years, through three senior ministers (all of whom begged him to stay on "just one more year.")

Leroy loved to travel. He literally went around the world more than once; was well-known in Europe and especially England. He finally reached the point where he could tell First Pres, "No, this time I mean it." They had his retirement party in February, 2008. He and Edy planned to hit the road; they had a number of stops to make in the US but were planning to hit some of the more exotic locales they had missed along the way. After 52 years, their kids were grown and married, they finally had enough money and time, and were going to "do it right." All that remained was a trip to the doctor the next day. At that visit, the doctor told him he had a fast-growing, almost always swiftly fatal, abdominal cancer.

Leroy approached everything he ever did with as much energy and intensity as he possessed (and he possessed a formidable amount of both). When he was directing us, he demanded no less than perfection. Now, if your best gift was to "make a joyful noise", that was ok by him---but he demanded that you make your BEST noise. WOE unto he or she who slacked, or didn't quite make the right pitch, or entered or cut off at the wrong time. Memorably, he stopped us more than once DURING A PERFORMANCE, turned to the audience, told them we were going to try again, and started us over. He delivered nothing less than his own personal best every single time, and expected no less from everyone around him.

When he got the cancer diagnosis, he attacked it with his customary freight-train-subtle manner. Unfortunately, this time he had run into something that was impervious to his icy glare, his razor-sharp criticism, or his gentle correction. He fought valiantly, but lost. After San Antonio exhausted their bag of medical tricks, he was transferred to M. D. Anderson here in Houston.

I was privileged to see him one last time at M. D. Anderson, just last week. He was very weak and tired, and I humiliated myself by bawling openly throughout the visit; nevertheless, he greeted me with his usual warm smile, twinkly eye, and humorous remarks.

Leroy: Nick, it's great to see you, man! How have you been?!

Me (crying, but smiling): Oh, Leroy, you know, the usual, fat, dumb, and happy (patting belly).

Leroy: Well, you sure don't want to try the diet I've been on...

Here's his obituary from the San Antonio Express-News.

By the way, the SA Express-News and Porter Loring Mortuary had better be glad Leroy's in Heaven, instead of here. They called him "Harold", which was his real first name. Want one of those icy stares? Go ahead and call him "Harold" and see what happens. If you do, though, I want to know ahead of time so I can be away from the general vicinity when it happens.


The "Celebration" of Leroy's life (which he planned down to the last note) is this Saturday, so back I go to San Antonio.

I don't know what they're thinking, having it at First Pres. They'd better see about the availability of the Municipal Auditorium or even Freeman Coliseum. We're all going, and so are all his kids from Seminary, and at least 1,000 from the old Trinity congregation.

A life truly well lived.

Ecclesiasticus, Chapter 44

Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us.
The Lord hath wrought great glory by them through his great power from the beginning.
Such as did bear rule in their kingdoms, men renowned for their power, giving counsel by their understanding, and declaring prophecies:
Leaders of the people by their counsels, and by their knowledge of learning meet for the people, wise and eloquent are their instructions:
Such as found out musical tunes, and recited verses in writing:
Rich men furnished with ability, living peaceably in their habitations:
All these were honoured in their generations, and were the glory of their times.
There be of them, that have left a name behind them, that their praises might be reported.
And some there be, which have no memorial; who are perished, as though they had never been; and are become as though they had never been born; and their children after them.
But these were merciful men, whose righteousness hath not been forgotten.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Good Physician

Mother has been in hospital here in San Antonio (I write this from Dad's apartment, where we are getting ready to go to midnight mass on Christmas Eve); she's been treated at the South Texas Medical Center by a dazzling array of doctors in a variety of specialities---none of whom have been able to help her at all.

Since she's been in the nursing home, she's been confused, whacked, and otherwise "out of it". She has slept the past two months away.

Enter H. Edwin Tamayo, MD. Dr. Tamayo is a Board Certified Internal Medicine Specialist with impeccable credentials (University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio Medical School; Internal Medicine specialization same institution; Board Certification Exams, then faculty teaching physician at University Hospital, Audie Murphy VA Hospital, and UTSA).

In September, 2007, Dr. Tamayo resigned his teaching position at UTSA. Effectively, he jettisoned the traditional medical practice (the financial end, including an office in a medical tower, a receptionist, nurse, transcriptionist, records clerk, and a veritable phalanx of insurance filing/billing experts) and treats people strictly at their homes. He does ONLY housecalls!

He started treating Mother about 10 days ago. He arrived at the nursing home wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and sandals on his bare feet. It was freezing outside. My sister asked him what was up with the sandals. He stated, "Well, if your feet are cold, your hands will be warm. Since I'm going to be touching my patients, I want my hands warm, so my feet need to be cold." An unconventional approach, to say the least.

He immediately determined that Mother's meds were TOTALLY wrong; he took her off almost all of them. He changed her diet and the entire approach to her care.

He has called the nursing home every day since he started treating her; every day. He checks on her progress and makes recommendations for her care based on what they tell him. How many doctors do you know who do that?

When I last saw her (Thanksgiving), she was barely conscious, almost catatonic in bed; she slept the whole time I was here except for the last day.

When I walked into her room today, she was SITTING UP ON THE SIDE OF THE BED, DRESSED, and TALKING. Not talking well, and she'll never walk again---but WE ARE TAKING HER TO MY SISTER'S TOMORROW FOR CHRISTMAS DINNER! She was coherent, though she had trouble with speech. It was a dramatic turnaround, which wouldn't have happened without the intervention of Dr. Tamayo.

So much for traditional medicine.

So, this dude must charge a fortune, right?

Here's what he does: when he walks in the room, he hands you a self-addressed stamped envelope, empty. He says, "Pay me whatever you think I'm worth; if you don't send anything, I'll never know. If you send thousands of dollars, I'll never know. This goes straight to my bookkeeper; I'm relying on God to provide for my family, and so far it's working."

He accepts no insurance, no medicare, no traditional payment schemes.

Hats off to The Good Physician. I hope he lives a long and prosperous life. He's certainly helped Mom.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


You know, my parents preached "quality" to me my entire life, and sometimes it just didn't sink in.

My Dad always believes in buying top quality, even if you have to pay more, even if you have to wait to save enough or you have to buy used to get better quality.

He's always used Craftsman tools, for example. While Snap-on might be better, they don't sell Snap-on at retail stores. Craftsman power tools may have been eclipsed these days, but their hand tools remain the same. (They may be eclipsed, but I have a garage full: lawn mower, blower, edger, trimmer, weed eater, all Craftsman, all excellent).

For years and years, I wore Hathaway shirts. I just loved them; they were beautifully made, by hand, from fine materials. When they got up to $100, I started wearing Turnbull and Asser (shirtmakers to HRH Charles, Prince of Wales). Hathaway went out of business; couldn't compete with cheap chinese labour (Hathaway proudly made in Maine, USA).

These days, I like Rountree and York (Dillards' house brand); the closest thing to the old Hathaways I've found. They just look and feel nice.

I bought a Countess Mara tie the other day, and it felt the same as they always have: thick, expensive, luxurious.

Johnston and Murphy and Cole Haan shoes: you get what you pay for. Eccos, too. You buy cheap shoes and that's what you've got. You buy quality, and not only does it hold up better and look better, it's more comfortable. Quality shows.

Which brings me to Calphalon cookware. I used Mother's hand-me-downs, then bought myself a set of Farberware which I used for years---right up until I discovered Calphalon.

There may be better cookware, but I'm not aware of it. It distributes heat properly; things do not stick; neither have I burnt anything yet. Cleanup's a breeze. My first few pieces were "Simply Calphalon", the cheapest they make; I now have a pretty extensive set of Calphalon Contemporary.

I've succeed in getting Nathan hooked on the above brands just like me.

There's a Calphalon outlet store here. I drove over there today to buy Nathan's Christmas present (Contemporary 8, 10, and 12 inch omelette pans). So he gets home from a date and promptly says, "Hey, let's go to the Calphalon store!" Yikes. So I went and got the shopping bag out of the trunk of the convertible, handed it to him and said, 'Merry Christmas". We then went out there and promptly exchanged for the ones he really wanted (fine with me, I want him to have what he wants). It was worth it, he was so proud of them.

I love buying quality goods.

(After I posted this, one more thing: I inherited my grandmother's cast iron skillets. I inherited them through Mother and Dad, who themselves inherited them. I now have ALL the cast-iron skillets, plus my aunt's cast iron Dutch Oven. I use the Calphalon for practically everything, but NOTHING tops a cast iron skillet for certain tasks, period. Bacon, sausage just tastes better from them. It is not possible to make cornbread without one (you are making corn cake if you make it in a cake pan, not cornbread). Speaking of quality--no idea how old Granny and Gramp's skillets were. Older than me. Possibly older than Dad. Many a delicious meal has come out of them. 85-100 years old and still work great? THAT's quality!).

Saturday, December 20, 2008

8 things

Ok, Kathy tagged me. Here we go:

8 TV Shows I watch:
1. Morning Joe on MSNBC
2. Pushing Daisies
3. How I Met Your Mother
4. Two and a Half Men
5. The Big Bang Theory
6. The CBS Evening News
7. The History Channel (too many individual shows to name)
8. Modern Marvels
9. West Wing re-runs
10. Testees

(I Love Lucy and Star Trek left off intentionally; I've seen all of them so many times I don't actually watch them much any more).

8 Favourite Restaurants

1. Perry's Steakhouse
2. Edomae Sushi
3. Singha Thai
4. House of Pies (Houston institution)
5. Palazzo's Italian (Westheimer location)
6. Molina's Mexican Cantina
7. McClard's, Hot Springs
8. El Fenix, Dallas
9. Panchito's, San Antonio
10. Snuffer's, Dallas

8 things that happened to me today
(I'm using yesterday as it's only 10am as I write this)

1. Started in on re-writes of resume
2. Perused Monster.com again
3. Called Dad
4. Surfed internet
5. Figured out formatting issues with Word 2007
6. Talked with fraternity brother
7. Groomed Coco (see below)
8. Groomed everybody else (jealousy)
9. Ate some chili I had made (too much chili powder! yuk!)
10. Went with Nathan to take Coco to his "forever home", which was 25 miles from here through some of the densest traffic in North America. By the time we were done, Nathan and I were both nervous wrecks.

8 Things I look forward to

2. Getting the house back to "normal" after Coco's departure
3. Learning how to cook the new "breakfast" recipe I just got
4. Learning how to grill steaks as well as Nathan
5. Getting more involved with some of the stuff going on at my church (they have a number of interesting ministries)
6. Surviving the Holidays
7. Football: all the Bowl Games on TV!!! Not to mention cheering on the Cowboys!
8. Possibly attending either the Alamo Bowl or the Houston Bowl or both
9. Did I mention getting a new job?
10. Getting back into a normal routine. One week of unemployment and I'm going nuts.

8 things I wish for:

1. Health, happiness, and peace for all my friends
2. New energy and vigour in Washington to rid the world of the Bush errors
3. A return to prosperity for our country
4. Sunshine. It's been cloudy and foggy here all week, which doesn't help.
6. "Smooth sailing" for Mother and Leroy
7. Ease of transition for Dad and Edwyna
8. Salvaging everything I can
9. To stay in Houston in my house
10. A new job.

If the Razorbacks would win the SEC, Baylor would go to a Bowl game, and the Cowboys would return to the Super Bowl, that would be just so much more icing on the cake.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

It's not what happens to you

it's what you do about it that matters.

The layoff was unexpected and traumatic. I believe---and was told by my boss (the Risk Manager) and HIS boss (VP-HR) that I had done an exemplary job. Both of them offered to write me glowing letters of recommendation, and that they would be glad to act as references for me.

My boss told me privately, as he took me to drinks and dinner, then helped me clean out my office, that (a) he fought like a demon to try to keep me, (b) offered up another employee instead--who unfortunately made less than half my salary, (c) didn't know what he was going to do without me, as he freely admitted that he had no idea how to do my job. The VP-HR told the President and CFO of the company, while they were in the meeting deciding who got the axe, that I had cleaned up the mess and gotten the department turned around and headed in the right direction.

It was strictly a numbers game---they had to find salaries that fit their requirements, and mine was one. (They also fired our Director of Training and our RECEPTIONIST, one of the best I've ever personally seen and a single mother with two little kids, along with two regional management staffs and regional managers, as well as demoting a VP to "Manager").

So, I wasn't mad. I mean, what does that get you? I had several interesting moments. I was calmly cleaning out my desk, putting stuff in boxes, and my boss was standing there looking like he had been punched in the stomach. He was not addressing me, he looked at the floor and said, "I just hate this."

When we loaded the last box in the car, he said, "You have handled this with more class and dignity than anyone I've ever seen." I said, "Well, I've always believed that a Gentleman loses with the same grace with which he wins; gracious in victory, gracious in defeat." He replied, "Well, then you're more of a gentleman than I am, because I'd be mad as hell."

I repeat: I'm not mad. Mad does no good. Just gets the blood pressure going. Unhappy, certainly. Frightened out of my wits. Determined to land on my feet. I will find a job, even with the recession/depression.

I have to believe the hand of God is in all this. It is that belief that is keeping me going.

I was working in the same job I'd had for 15 years in Arkansas. This came along out of the blue, was a vastly bigger, better opportunity (and has enhanced my resume) and I took it.

Two weeks after I got here, our biggest client at my little company in Arkansas went belly-up. So I would have been on the street then, totally unprepared, weighing 60 lbs more than I weigh now, with no clothes, no resume, no nothing.

It got Mother, Dad and me out of a declining (to the point of criminality, crack houses, gunshots, etc) neighborhood and into a better area.

It got Mother and Dad to San Antonio, where they have better medical care and better access to it, and my sister and her family to look after them, with me 3 hours away in Houston.

It got Nathan out of a tough situation in Arkansas and launched him on what I believe will be a spectacular career. He can now hold his head up with every member of his graduating class when he tells them of his job, his company, and where he lives. All he has to do is keep working with the same diligence he is applying now; keep his education going; keep after it, and he's going to wind up very, very well off. He'll be able to buy one of my friend Kathy Beaumont's houses and write a check for it by the time he's 40.

I was able to buy this house, which just "fell out of the sky", on an incredible interest rate with a loan I could not now get. Since I hadn't sold my Malvern house, and wasn't going to get anything for it anyway, I got one of the very last -0- down 30 year fixed rate loans offered before the collapse.

I just don't think all of these things were coincidental; I see the hand of God in them. If you want to laugh at me for that, go ahead.

If God has brought me this far, why would he desert me at this point?

When God closes a door, he opens a window somewhere else. I've just got to find that window.

Keep Looking Up!

From Malvie's Musings

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Well, easy come, easy go

I was laid off today (nice way of saying, "fired"). They had a 10% reduction in force, and I was one of the lucky ones whose number was up.

So, if anybody needs a top-notch Claim Manager, I'm available.

I'll be doing a nationwide job search; I can't be picky about where I wind up. At 51, I've got to max potential, so wherever the job is will be where I go.

Sometimes life just really does give you lemons.

Middle Aged Crazy, Convertibles, and Route 66

From Route 66

All my life, I've been fascinated with the legend of Route 66.

There was the popular TV show when I was an impressionable kid, aptly and simply titled "Route 66". In this show, two guys travel the country in a sharp Corvette convertible, to a sharp theme song. There is the other song, notably by Manhattan Transfer and Harry Connick, Jr., "If you ever....plan to motor west...". Lucy, Rick, Fred and Ethel kinda-sorta took Route 66 (at least part of it) on their epic trip to California. More recently, the movie "Cars" (one of my favourites) paid homage to the great "Mother Road".

Although I lived in California, I never DROVE there. I had a company car in Dallas which I turned in (Buick Skylark, burgandy/tan interior), and a company car which I picked up in LA (Chevrolet Caprice Estate Wagon--I was an "Assistant Associate Junior Executive" (Dagwood Bumstead's official title), so I got hand-me-down company cars...). So, as much as I've been to California, I've always FLOWN.

I'm bad about cars and shoes. Shoes, just call me Imelda. I have to stay out of DSW Shoe Warehouse like a drunk has to stay out of Spec's.

My (partial) list of cars (includes some, but not all, of the company cars; I can't remember them all): 1955 Dodge Royal Lancer 1966 Chevelle SS 396 1974 Vega 1975 Nova LN 1978 Chevrolet Malibu 1979 Ford Fairmont 1982 Toyota Celica 1980 Buick Skylark 1980 Pontiac Bonneville Brougham 1980 Chevrolet Caprice Classic Estate Wagon 1983 Cadillac Sedan DeVille 1984 Cadillac Sedan DeVille 1985 Chevrolet Caprice Classic 1987 Volvo 1987 Ford Taurus 1989 Lincoln Town Car 1990 Dodge Dynasty 1993, 1994, 1995 Chevrolet Cavalier 1996, 1997 Dodge Neon 1999 Chevrolet Monte Carlo 1998 Dodge Ram Quad Cab 2004 Dodge Grand Caravan

I've always been car-crazy. My Aunt Shorty used to tool around in a Cadillac Convertible deVille. One of our neighbors growing up had a red Mustang convertible. In 1975, when I was a senior in high school, my cousin Jim's wife Marshall (whom I still think is one of the most gorgeous women I've ever personally seen) drove up at a family gathering in a 1975 Cadillac El Dorado convertible, powder blue, white leather interior, with her hair tied in a scarf a la Audrey Hepburn. I thought she was a movie star. Speaking of Audrey Hepburn, she drives a convertible in Roman Holiday and is gorgeous as ever... My brother in law, Phil, had a Miata convertible that he loved knocking around in. I thought that thing was GREAT. He sold it to his brother, drat the luck.

In any event, I have always been fascinated with the West, Route 66, and cars, especially convertibles, although I never owned one. I love travel, always have.


Fast forward to 2007. I was living in Malvern, Arkansas, doing the elder-care thing with Mother and Dad. I was running Compensation Managers (which was pretty easy to do). I was bored, depressed, and fat. On February 11, 2007, I turned 50 years old and pretty much had the standard American Male Middle Age Crisis. I was casting around for something (anything!) to break the monotony. Bored, lonely, depressed, fat. I had about $3,500 in a savings account, just little bits and pieces I'd saved. Figured I'd use it in an emergency. Well, if Fat-n-Fifty, bored, lonely and depressed isn't an emergency, what is? ;-)

So, what to do about it? I could have a helluva trip to Europe on $3,500, but then the money would be gone and I would be home and nothing would change. I was surfing the internet and got to thinking about convertibles. I'd just always figured them to be out of my league financially, and of course impractical as well. But the internets is an amazing thing. You can find all sorts of websites featuring all sorts of things. Cars.com, for example. AutoTrader.com for another. So I typed in "Convertible" and "$3,500" just to laugh at what jumped up---and was very surprised to learn that I could get a --not too old, not too worn-- convertible for LESS than the money I had available.

After considerable shopping (and not telling a soul), I settled on a black 1997 Chrysler Sebring jxi, gray leather interior. I called the lady up, she was most anxious to sell, and I agreed to come look at it. One thing: it was in Corona, California (Los Angeles). So what? I had some free Southwest tickets, so why not? Worst that could happen, I get there, don't like the car, and fly back home having had a weekend in SoCal. SoI told everyone I was taking Friday and Monday off. I declined to say where I was going.


At 6:00 am, I departed Little Rock Adams Field for Ontario Int'l Airport; she met me in the car. As soon as I drove it, I was shocked: it drove amazingly well. I loved it immediately. The previous owner (long story about not much: the lady owned a mechanic shop; the guy had a lot of work done and then didn't pay; he signed the car title over to her and she was selling) had taken the radio, so she and I drove to a stereo shop where I had a new Pioneer stereo put in.

I paid her cash and she signed the title and there I sat in Corona, California, at 1:00 in the afternoon PST, under a gorgeous Southern California sunny sky, in my brand-new-used 1997 convertible (License plate: "40 Oz"; the prior owner had been a young african-american gentleman, and I think he liked the 40 ounce beers ;-), thinking, "My GOD, what the HELL have I done!??!"

God not deigning to answer that question (knowing full well what I had done), I took the car to the nearest Jiffy Lube and had the oil changed while I sat at Denny's and had lunch. I then located a Wal-Mart, bought a flat of "Sam's Choice" water, a new Rubbermaid ice chest (gray, to match) that just exactly fit the right rear seat; ice; sunscreen; a floppy hat with a tie underneath, tasty snax and a Rand McNally atlas.

Thus equipped, I mapped my route from Corona to Palm Springs (more about my love affair with Palm Springs in another post), and set out for one of my favourite places on earth. Traveling through San Bernardino, I arrived in Palm Springs, top down, tunes blasting, feeling great. Sat by the pool taking in the ambiance and several--ok, many-- lovely views and lovely martinis, got to bed relatively early. Here is my photo of Palm Canyon Drive, taken standing up in the driver's seat:

From Route 66

The next day, I got up, got ready, and went out to the car. Looked at the tires; while they weren't bad, I decided a visit to Sam's in Palm Desert was a good idea. 2 hrs and 4 new Michelins later, I was on the road.

I took the I-10 to Phoenix; that's not strictly "Route 66" but it's the route I decided upon. Crossing the desert, car made it great. 108 degrees in the desert; top up (sun was shining brightly and I'm not THAT stupid), a/c blasting, radio blasting. I actually had the a/c on LESS than the top setting (good old Chrysler AirTemp Air Conditioning, baby).

From Route 66

Cruising along in the desert, I was struck by the austere beauty of the region. Some of the sand looked like it had lain undisturbed from the beginning of time. There was a strong sense of "purple mountains' majesty" as the mountains rose from the sand on either side of the interstate.

From Route 66

Arriving in Phoenix, I was struck (as I always am) by the lack of vegetation in a large, modern, beautiful American city. Every place I've ever lived has had vegetation all over the place; Houston, my current home, is basically where the Piney Woods of East Texas merge with the Coastal Plains grasslands. There's enough vegetation here for the entire STATE of Arizona.

From Route 66

Left Phoenix, headed north on IH 17. It was 115 degrees when I left Phoenix. You climb and climb and climb and then climb some more. 40 oz made it just fine. I was having a grand time, snapping pictures WHILE driving (we will not discuss motoring safety; I am an insurance professional!). Verde Valley was one of my favourite stops.

From Route 66

By the time I got to Sedona (another one of my favourite spots on the planet), it was 60 degrees and I had the top down as the stars were coming out. I had this very loose plan about returning. As an Aquarian, I don't like things just TOO planned out. My Virgo cousin is the exact opposite; any deviation disturbs him greatly. Me, I like to wing it.

From Route 66

So my vague plan was to stop at Flagstaff, Arizona for the night ("Flagstaff, Arizona, don't forget Winona..."; I was actually on IH 40 now, the freeway which replaced the "real" Route 66). What I failed to take into consideration was that (a) it was the height of the tourist season, and (b) Flagstaff is the jumping-off place for people touring the GRAND CANYON. Yikes. Every hotel was full, without exception. The restaurants were full of "typical Americans"---white (I saw no blacks at all), fat, and towing a passel of fat white kids with them.

So, I drove on, finally stopping at the Super 8 motel in Winslow, Arizona. I was standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, such a fine sight to see; unfortunately, there was no girl, my Lord, in a flat-bed Ford slowing down to take a look at me. So, I ate at Denny's (there are millions and millions of Denny's in the west; kind of like McDonald's or Jack in the Box here, they are literally everywhere you look) and went to bed. Next morning, still no sign of the girl, my Lord, in the flat-bed Ford, so I left Winslow and headed east.

Passing across the Painted Desert, again I could not possibly describe the beauty. It was just plain fabulous. I nearly broke my neck and shutter-finger, along with just about wrecking the car, snapping my head right and left and taking pictures. Top down motoring, baby!

From Route 66

At the border of Arizona and New Mexico is the magical place called Window Rock. While the actual "Window Rock" is off the freeway, the range of which it's a part is cut out FOR the freeway. Beautiful. It's also the tribal capital of the Navajo tribe and their sacred ground. A word about the Native Americans: I have in my mind the commercial from the 70's featuring the chief with the single tear running down his cheek. Yeah, well, the modern image is a huge truck stop featuring !!!!INDIAN SOUVENIRS!!!! There are thousands of them. Every gas station. I guess everybody's got to make a living somehow...

From Route 66

Crossing into New Mexico, there was a distinct difference in the desert: LOTS more vegetation. Still just clumps of grass, but it RAINS there. Got to see Gallup, New Mexico. Nothing special, but I've heard about it all my life and it was fun to go there. Made it to Albuquerque and couldn't help but remember another American Icon: Bugs Bunny ("I KNEW I should have taken that left turn at Albuquerque!"). Well, Bugs, I felt the same way, as the freeway system there is not exactly easy to figure out. I made it though, and when I came out of Albuquerque's valley on the other side of the mountains, suddenly things looked more familiar: it began to be the rolling grasslands of the Great Plains.

From Route 66

I've lived in Texas and Oklahoma and this was starting to look a LOT more familiar.

From Route 66


From Route 66

Crossing into Texas, I had a strange mix of emotions:
  • Relief, because I was at least back in Texas and the trip was going to be ok. I figure, if 40 oz had made it this far (and it had done beautifully, averaging 24 mpg, a/c flawless, water temp gauge straight in the middle of "normal", transmission shifting smoothly, top operating flawlessly), it would get me home.
  • Sadness, because the trip was more than 50% over.
  • Strangeness, because while I was in Texas, all right, I was in the PANHANDLE, with which I have limited experience. My part of Texas is the Dallas/Houston/San Antonio triangle, with Corpus Christi, the Hill Country, and East Texas thrown in. This might be Texas, but it was a long way from anything with which I was familiar.
  • And, finally, Gladness because suddenly, instead of Native Americans and fat white people, there was the more familiar mix of white, black, and hispanic. I stopped at Whataburger (good ol Whataburger!!!! Not Denny's!!!) and the young lady who waited on me was black. Her manager (about 5 minutes older than her) was hispanic. The gal working the window was white. Ahhhh, home at last!
Left Amarillo by sunset (not morning) and headed for Oklahoma City, top down. Thunderheads were brewing (until then the weather was flawless), lighting all up in the 40,000 foot clouds. It never rained on me. I was flying along with the top down, and truly, up there in the clean panhandle air, with no city lights and about 12% humidity, THE STARS AT NIGHT ARE BIG AND BRIGHT, DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAS. Millions of stars, the big thunderheads in the background, with lightning. It was breathtaking.

Stopped at a rest area in Texas, near the Oklahoma border. Styled up in my convertible (darkness helped 40 oz's looks a great deal). There was an African-American family in their minivan, top piled with luggage, who stopped at the same time I did. The Dad looked longingly at 40 oz, and said, "Man, I sure do like your car." I thanked him and we got into a conversation (as often happens with me). The family was from CORONA, CALIFORNIA (from whence I had just come). They were headed for PINE BLUFF, ARKANSAS (45 miles from Malvern, where I was going). We laughed about the coincidence, I let his 8 year old son sit behind the wheel with the top down pretending to drive (I remember doing that as an 8 year old), and we were all on our way.

Once I arrived in Oklahoma City, in my mind I was "home". I had spent a LOT of time in the City; knew it well; had stayed in the same mom-and-pop hotel for years and years.

Got up the next morning and drove the 6 hours home to Malvern, top down all the way.

So, that was my Great Middle-Aged Adventure, featuring completely unplanned, spur-of-the-moment, off-the-cuff trips, convertibles, glacial martinis, Palm Springs, Route 66, deserts, moutains, Indians, new friends, and all the associated memories. It was one of the great adventures of my life. 40 oz and I have parted company; I have a newer convertible now, but I'll never forget her.

It was the cheapest $3,500 I ever spent.

From Route 66

(If you want to see ALL the pictures, they're HERE).

If you ever
plan to motor west,
travel my way, take the highway that's the best!
Get your kicks on Route 66!
Now you go through St. Looie,
Joplin, Missouri; Oklahoma City looks mighty pretty!
You'll see
Gallup, New Mexico!
Flagstaff, Arizona, (don't forget Winona!) Kingman, Barstow, San Bernardino!
If you'll give into this timely tip,
when you make that California trip---
Get your kicks on Route 66!
Get your kicks on Route 66!
Get your kicks....on Route 66!!!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Stupid dogs! ;-)

Ok, enough doom and gloom.

I love dogs. I can't imagine life without a dog. I went years without one, but after I got Sam (my Toy Fox Terrier), from that point forward I've had one.

I had Sam 17 years; he was a great dog and a good companion.

After Sam, I thought I'd try it without a dog for a while, but then my cousin Cathy spammed everybody.

Cathy spent her life in New York, then Georgetown (the one in DC, not the one in Austin). Bobby convinced her to move to his hometown of Fayetteville, Arkansas. She was reluctant until she saw what their Georgetown townhouse money would buy in Fayetteville (now she's got her whole family moved to Arkansas...).

She was learning to ride the 4-wheeler and saw what looked like a sea serpent coming at her across the grass. It turned up to be a bunch of puppies, with their mama in tow. Cathy wanted to keep them all, but there were 8 of them and she already had 2 dogs; Bobby just said "no".

So she spammed all of us, everybody in her address book. She said, "you guys are going to have to come get these dogs." So, that's how I got Lucy.

I was corresponding online on the HawgsIllustrated message board, when a guy who rarely posted popped in and asked if we knew anybody who wanted a female border collie puppy. So that's how I got Ethel.

Nathan looked online on Petfinder and came up with Maggie the Golden Retriever. (Maggie went from "Maggie Pooch" to "Snaggie Snootch" to "The Snootch").

We rescued Coco (Cohiba, which became "CoCo", which became "Coco Puff" which became "The Puff" which became "The Poof" which became "Le Pouf") the black lab 12 hours before he was to be euthanized. He's a very sweet dog, very intelligent, very loving. We're fostering him till we can find him a "forever home."

So if anybody needs a sweet, smart, beautiful black lab, about a year old, let me know. 4 dogs are a bit much.

The stupid dogs have a lot of fun. They have yappy friends behind us with whom they love to run up and down the fence and bark. They have friends next door. They get to go on walks. Everybody in this neighborhood is in violation of the deed restrictions, which say no more than 2 animals. Everybody here has at least 2, several have many more. City of Houston says you can have 5.

Everybody in the neighborhood walks their dogs. I do, too. There is much sniffing and running around, but it's good exercise.

Maggie the Snootch has determined that the (old, sick) elm tree in the back yard needs to be excavated. She apparently is digging to China. I'll get out there at some point and take pictures. I don't really care; there's no grass because there's too much shade. The elm has to go, it's old and sick and is too close to the house anyway. I can take it down and maybe grow some grass. So dig on, Snootch.

It is fun to watch them sort out the pecking order. CoCo is at the top of the heap, but he can get in trouble with the Queen Bee, Her Most Imperial Majesty Lucy. She was the head knocker until CoCo said, "Hey, I'm bigger than you!"

In any event, here is the herd. Anybody want a black lab?

Found it

I found my little plaque that says, "Keep looking up".

I lived in Malvern 15 years, and accumulated a LOT of crap. Mother and Dad lived in their house 35 years I have a lot of their stuff here too.

Time to get rid of more stuff. Yup. Needs to go.

In any event, the plaque is very sentimental. It hung on Granny Jones's kitchen wall for my whole life, and quite a bit before that.

My Dad was the baby of the family. He had two older sisters and an older brother. They were little kids, it was the Depression (the first one, we're in the second one), and they had NO cash.

They went to the dimestore and bought this little plaque for their mother for Christmas.

It hung in the same place till Dad rebuilt the kitchen in Malvern, then it came to me. I have cherished it ever since.

I thought I had lost it, was despairing, but I finally found it, hidden right where I hid it.

In any event, here it is, its message as timely now as it was when they gave it to her:

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Tough times---KEEP LOOKING UP!

Well, from the frying pan to the fire...I suppose it is the time of life through which I'm traveling.

First, Mother is the same, just a slow, steady decline.

Second, day before yesterday, Aunt Joy's husband, Jim Morgan, was admitted to the hospital in San Antonio with kidney issues. Aunt Joy reads my blog, so sweetie, know that I am praying for Jim's swift recovery.

Third, while I knew this was going on, I thought we had it licked. Apparently we did not.

During your life, you have different people who are big influences on who you are as an adult, both within your family and outside your family.

One of my big influences (and my friend Robert's, and all of us, really, from San Antonio) was Leroy Yarbrough (that's "Luh ROY", not "Lee Roy") and his lovely wife, Edwyna (Edy).

Leroy was Minister of Music at Trinity Baptist Church in San Antonio. We had a huge youth program there, and most of us were in the youth choir, the Mainstream. We were 125-150 strong. We made some big trips, but the biggest of all was the "Grand Tour"---Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Austria. It was wonderful, both the trip and the time.

Leroy embodied the phrase, "Southern Christian Gentleman". He wasn't a prude, he wasn't a religionista, but you always knew where he stood. He talked the talk and walked the walk.

He had fabulous taste in music; I learned everything I know about music from the base he gave me. He was a total perfectionist who would NEVER accept anything less than your absolute best. If your best was a little sharp or a little flat, he wouldn't complain, but if he knew you could do better, he DEMANDED it.

That's why his choirs won every award in the book, were invited to sing all over the place, and were a huge influence on many, many lives.

Now, just because he was a strict choirmaster doesn't mean that he was dour, or scary, or mean. Leroy was/is a riot to be around; he's funny, witty, and sharp; "more fun than a barrel of monkeys" is the phrase that comes to mind. When it comes to thinking up fun things to do, Leroy is one of the people you'd want to call.

Last February, Leroy wasn't feeling well and went to the doctor. He was diagnosed with lymphoma (he never smoked) and it was being aggressively treated.

So far as I knew, his treatment was progressing well and we had some remission going, but apparently that is not the case. Over Thanksgiving, he was transported here to Houston to M. D. Anderson, where he remains in Intensive Care, fighting for his life. I found out tonight and was going to rush over there, but he can't have any visitors and I'm sure Edy and the family (they had two lovely daughters, now middle aged like me, who married well and have sweet kids) are just worn out.

That's a trifecta right there, Mother, Jim, and Leroy. We have hopes for all of them, but it's not looking good for Mother and Leroy.

Keep Looking Up! I had that poster sometime, somewhere but no longer have it.

In any event, I'd ask anyone reading this to pray for my friends.

Most people, when asked, will say their favourite Psalm is the 23rd. I like that one fine, but it's not my favourite. My favourite is Psalm 121 (especially in Anglican Chant). <<(if you want to know what I think of when I think "church", click the link. Now THAT's CHURCH!)(It's St. Paul's London, which I had the great privilege to visit back in 2006).

Psalm 121

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.

My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.

He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.

Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD is thy keeper: the LORD is thy shade upon thy right hand.

The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.

The LORD shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.

The LORD shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.

Friday, December 5, 2008


Don't you just HATE it when you get a song stuck in your head?

Yesterday it was "Obla-di, Obla-da, life goes on..."

Today's is worse, far, far worse.

I'm told the best way of getting rid of a song stuck in your head is to give it to someone else, so here you go:

Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Had a very shiny nose!
And if you ever saw it,
You would even say it glows!

All of the other reindeer
used to laugh and call him names.
They never let poor Rudolph
join in any Reindeer games!

Then one foggy Christmas Eve,
Santa came to say,
"Rudolph with your nose so bright,
won't you guide my sleigh tonight?"

Then how the reindeer loved him,
As they shouted out with glee,
"Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer,
you'll go down in history!"

(Rather shallow of them, don't you think? They didn't like him until Santa said HE liked him, then they were all over him. Syncophants, the lot of them.).

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Random observations

None of which really rate their own entry:

1. Book Review: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. If you've not read this one, I thought it was mesmerizing. The author (first book) was able to describe so vividly the scenes, the emotions, and the action that I feel I was actually there. I'm pretty snooty about "real" books (I can read cheap hack stuff and enjoy it, but when looking at a "major" book, I'm very critical) and I found almost nothing about which to complain. It's not a happy smiley feel-good type of book, so if you're looking for warm fuzzies, this ain't it. I'd actually characterize it as "literature".

2. Movie Review: Australia. It's like the filmmaker decided to combine Gone With the Wind, Giant, Pearl Harbor, and the Thorn Birds into one movie---and it's about as long as if he just spliced them together. Let's see, we have a brave young woman of privilege, thrust into the wild environment of the Australian Outback, fighting valiantly to save her station (plantation in Australian...); she's saved by the handsome rogue, who winds up cleaning up nicely (all GWTW); there's an isolated station in a grand setting, with wealth, and people hostile to the young heroine (Giant); the handsome rogue is conflicted (Giant, Thorn Birds); there's cattle droving, love under the stars, death and destruction, and an entire subplot about the aborigines and their world---then the Japs attack and bomb the place (Pearl Harbor).

All in all, it's a decent expenditure of $9.50, but be aware that you are going to have to sit through 3 hours of movie, so watch the consumption of "Giant" sized cokes.


I know I have the wrong attitude, but re: "Episcopal Split as Conservatives form New Group"...well, buh-bye. Enjoy your trip into oblivion.

I grew up Baptist; the Baptists have splintered so many times there are literally thousands of Baptist traditions now. Splintering off is not going to get you anything but oblivion. One of the strengths of the Episcopal church has been hanging together in the face of disagreements. If they want to leave, well, buh-bye.

Oh, one more thing: you know all those great church buildings and property, some of which are in really expensive downtown areas, some of which have tremendous improvements (million dollar pipe organs and the like)? Um, they belong lock, stock, and barrel to the Episcopal Church, NOT to the individual congregations. (Before you start trying to elicit sympathy from others ("They took our church away from us!") remember how you PAID for it in the first place---you DIDN'T, Church Finance Corp did.

"But we made improvements". Real Estate law in every state indicates that improvements permanently installed go with the property and become the property of the owner (not the person who paid for the installation).

So be sure and give us the keys on your way out the door to wherever it is you're going to meet next week. We'll have priests in place and new congregations grown where you left. Oh, and the name stays with the Episcopal Church, too. So, if you were, say, St. Peter's Episcopal Church, you don't have the right to that name. You can be St. Peter's something-or-other church, but the original name is a property right.

Have fun in your new life, and don't forget to turn the lights out on your way out the door. We'll get the electricity changed into our name.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


It's a funny thing about friends. You don't realize how hard it is to make new ones until you are forced to do so.

I was really fortunate in Arkansas to have many excellent friends. Many were Razorback buddies, some were friends I'd known for years. Some have gone by the wayside; others are "keepers" that I believe I'll have, in one way or the other, for life.

I have begun to realize that I'm going to have to get out and make new friends.

Nathan is a wonderful young man, and an excellent friend and roommate, but he's 25 and full of life and is out making new friends and forging a new life for himself. I'm really proud to have been able to watch his growth and development into the fine young man he now is; I'm really pleased he's shared this part of his life with me. I'm enjoying the hell out of having him as a roommate (he keeps me young), but one of these days he's going to find some sweet young thing and off he will be on a new life adventure (this is the way of things, and is as it should be).

My friends are scattered to the four winds. Robert's in Dallas, Keith's in Dallas, Gage is in Austin, Marty's in Oklahoma, Jeff's in Little Rock, Steve's in Little Rock, John's in San Diego, Craig's in San Francisco, Patti Tang's in NYC, Kathy and Larry are in Birmingham. My sister's in Boerne.

Of course, I have Jimmy and Nancy here; they have a baby who is sweet and wonderful, but takes all their available spare time. I am remiss, though, in not making more of an effort to go meet them for dinner, at least.

For years, I relied upon my parents as friends, too. Living next door to them in Malvern, it was fun to have them as adult friends, and we did things like the boat and the Florida trips (and some Razorbacking) together. Now Mother's in the nursing home and my 85 year old Dad is caring for her.

So, at 51, I'm going to strike out in some new directions. I'll always have my old friends, and will always love them. I'll be glad every time I see their names on caller ID, and I'll call them too. It's just that sometimes, I'd like to have somebody with whom to go to a movie, have a beer or three, or just plain hang out. Lucy and Ethel are sweet doggies but the lack of opposable thumbs makes it difficult for them to hold a beer.

I do have one set of friends here; one of my friends from Minneapolis lives here, married a Texan, and is comfortably settled in the Houston Heights, so there's a start.

I've been a parishioner at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church for a year, but have only made one or two acquaintances because I'm gone all the time on weekends. I'm going to re-arrange around that so I can try to go.

It's hard at 51; everybody's already got their lives going and everybody's already got their circle of friends.

But, as that old Joe Cocker song (which I hated at the time) goes, in part:

Who knows what tomorrow brings
In a world few hearts survive?
All I know is the way I feel.
When it's real, I keep it alive.
The road is long, there are mountains in our way,
But we climb a step every day.

Some hang on to "used to be,"
Live their lives looking behind.
All we have is here and now,
All our life, out there to find.
The road is long, there are mountains in our way,
But we climb a step every day