Sunday, October 30, 2011

Lightening the Load, Indeed (and, the Ghost with the Most)

My friend Kathy Beaumont’s most recent blog post was about lightening the load---going through and getting rid of stuff.  The rule should be:  if you haven’t used it for a year, it needs to go.

I’ve been in “get rid of it” mode for a while now, and after Kathy’s post I kind of sat up and looked around me.

It’s going to take me YEARS to go through this stuff.  I’m sentimental to the max, and if I find one of Grannie’s* gum wrappers (she liked Juicy Fruit), I’m loathe to toss it.

In some cases, though, I’m glad I hung onto some things that theoretically I should have tossed or given away years ago.


In 1968, I went with my Dad to help my grandparents purchase a stereo.  The old Philco radio had bitten the dust; in any event, 78 rpm records were “out” and while Granny still wanted to be able to listen to Nelson Eddy and his Orchestra’s rendition of “The Old Rugged Cross”, she also wanted to hear the contemporary sounds of that Mantovani fellow,

not to mention the mellifluous tones of 101 Strings.

So, we hopped into the 65 Olds and went to Haverty’s in downtown Little Rock.  At that time, Main Street, though fading, was still Main Street and Haverty’s had this huge store.  They had their stereo equipment on the 4th floor, and up we trekked; after some debate, Granny* and Gramp made their selection.

It was a Magnavox Astro-Sonic (everything in the 60’s was just so much more cool and groovy if you put “Astro” in the title; in Magnavox’s case, it was their trade name for “Solid State”—no tubes, all transistors) in a beautiful pecan cabinet (vaguely “Mediterranean”, another hot styling trend of the time).

It had an actual subwoofer, two 12” front speakers, two 3” tweeters, and two 12” side speakers, and it could crank the music.  The controls—I don’t know how they and Marantz (a higher-end brand) did it, but the controls just glided.  Ball bearings?  They were incredibly smooth and rich feeling. 

I’d wait till everybody was out of the house, then put my records on and blast away with it.  With pier-and beam foundation and wood floors, the underside of the house made a perfect reverb chamber.  I always got caught, because the pictures would all go crooked on the walls and I’d always miss one or two; I could rattle the dishes in the kitchen cabinets.  And, periodically, I’d forget to turn the volume back down and Granny would get a jolt when she went to play a record.

I loved the sound it made.

Sadly, after Granny and Gramp died, the Magnavox went to a different part of the family and I lost track of it.  After all these years, and with a large vinyl collection collecting dust on the shelf in Malvern (my turntable died years ago), and boxed since the move to Houston 4 years ago, the records were on the “endangered species” hit list.  (“Be ruthless with discards.”)


I was sitting here the other day, posting away on one of my Bulletin boards.  One of the younger posters asked about various music delivery devices and some of us older ones were talking about things like cassettes (eeww) and 8-track (surprisingly, I like them better than cassettes) then about vinyl records (33 1/3, 45, and the older 78’s).  Many of the younger posters have never seen or heard a record! 

I was looking online (you can find anything on the interwebs) and thought, “I’ll see if there’s a picture of that Magnavox somewhere.  I seem to remember it being featured in one of their ads. 

And…I found a photo.  A “live” listing on ebay.  The exact set, IDENTICAL to my grandparents’, apparently flawless, with the original paper on the turntable, owner’s manuals, etc. Owner is throwing in her Dad's vinyl and 8 tracks (!), many of which are still shrinkwrapped.

I couldn’t resist.

So, the weekend before Thanksgiving, I’m driving to Louisville, Kentucky to pick up my beautiful 1968 Magnavox “Astro-Sonic” console stereo, albums, and 8 tracks. 

Here it is, in all its Mediterranean Pecan glory:


(and ya know what else?  It doesn’t have all those exposed wires and crap we’ve just gotten used to with all the component sets we’ve had for decades now.  This stuff was classy).

The other rule (besides “if you haven’t used it in a year…”) is: if something “big” comes in, something else must go OUT in order to make room.  I’ve got it figured out.

Now all I have to do is figure out which of the boxes in the storage bedroom actually contain the albums.  Gee, I haven’t heard the White Album or Abbey Road or Steppenwolf or Led Zeppelin or Iron Butterfly or Peter Frampton or the Byrds or Chicago on ALBUMS in at least 20 years.  Yes, I own much of that music on itunes.  (Some of it, notably Abbey Road, I bought in album, then 8-track, then cassette, then CD, and now it resides in itunes).  Still—the sound on the vinyl, blasting out of those Magnavox speakers---

I can’t wait!  Here Comes the Sun (do do do do ) Here Comes the Sun and I say, “It’s all right!”


Paul Eells, a gentleman it was my great pleasure and privilege to know, was the announcer for Vanderbilt and a fixture on Nashville television—until he accepted a similar position at KATV Channel 7 in Little Rock.  He loved the Razorbacks, was the Voice of the Razorbacks, and I belt out his “TOUCHDOWN, ARKANSAS!  OH, MY!” every time they score.

Paul died tragically in an automobile accident on the way from Fayetteville back to Little Rock.  A few weeks later, Houston Nutt took the Hogs to play Vandy in Nashville, right around Halloween.  The score was close and Vandy was driving.  They had to attempt a last-second field goal for the win.  It looked perfect—till a gust of wind hit the ball and blew it wide.  Hogs win.

It was said that the Ghost of Paul blew on the ball and caused it to sail wide.

Yesterday, a day most celebrated as Halloween (I don’t like changing the holidays to fit the weekends, but oh well…), once again, Vandy was driving the field to win the game and had to attempt a field goal---which sailed right, in almost exactly the same spot. 

Paul Eells,  the Ghost with the Most!


*Both my grandmothers were “Grannee”.  Grandmother Jones was “Granny”, while Grandmother Forthmon was “Grannie”.  Grannie lived with us; I spent the summers with Granny and Gramp in Malvern, with Grannie nearby at Aunt Paulie’s.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Object Lessons

In an unsurprising move for me, I determined to practice work-avoidance (I have so much to do at work right now, I really am going to have to work tonight, Sunday, in order to have a prayer this week). 

Last weekend, I visited Aunt Shorty (aged 92), who had (in her usual effortless manner) whipped up home-made pulled pork bbq for me (in the crockpot).  I asked her how she did it and it really did sound simple.

So, in order to practice work-avoidance (and knowing that I would have to work very late every night this week, and being very tired of Taco Bell, KFC, Long John Silvers, Taco Cabana, and even Pei Wei and Popeye’s), I decided to see if I could accomplish some crock-pot bbq myself.  I reasoned, if I fix a big batch on Sunday, I can probably eat it for several days (till I’m sick of it) and neither cook nor go out (the microwave is your friend).

So, having listened to Aunt Shorty’s recipe and done a quick Google search, I set out for the local H-E-B to obtain food and supplies.

On Sunday.

What was I thinking?  It was, of course, packed. 

I won’t go to Wal-Mart in Houston.  Too big, too many people, too much of everything.  I go there about every 3 or 4 months and buy $200 worth of things like toothpaste, shaving cream, TP, paper towels, etc.  Those things really are cheaper there and if you buy them in big bulk and just store them, you limit your trips.

The local H-E-B has what I call the "International Bizarre” (spelling intentional) flavor to it.  Houston is a big melting pot of people from all over the world, and they flock to “my” H-E-B.  You’ll pass a gaggle of muslim women in their scarves, standing behind 3 or 4 Nigerians in full tribal-gear, who are waiting for the Korean family in front of them to move out of the way.  The store is tight and packed from top to bottom.

Every time I go in there, I vow mightily never to return.  It’s not necessarily the “international bizarre” aspect (I’ve found that women of all nationalities are equally adept at allowing their brats to scream bloody murder for no reason at all while Mom shops, oblivious), it’s the crowds.

You wouldn’t think that someone who’s attended as many sporting events as I have, and lived some of the places I have, would be bothered by crowds.  I’m finding that, as I age, that’s one of the things I tolerate less and less gracefully.  I won’t wait on line more than 15 minutes for ANY restaurant.  I cuss the traffic at all times.  I have no patience for long lines at the airport, nor for stupid people on the plane who hold up the whole shebangabang so they can angle for the perfect seat (pick one, sit in it, buckle up, and shut up).  I’m becoming, as my friend Keith says, a “crank”.  (The nicer word is “curmudgeon”).

So today, as I pushed my cart through the packed aisles at H-E-B, trying desperately to locate “Liquid Smoke” (it’s in the bbq sauce aisle, not the spice or baking aisle), digging around looking for dark brown sugar (you’d think there’d be lots, but they only had a few bags) and being shocked that they are all the way out of Duke’s Mayonnaise (if you’ve not tried it, do so; I’ve switched from my lifelong Hellman’s to Duke’s), I was pushed, prodded, shoved, and generally swarmed by the aforementioned muslim ladies, Nigerians (they wouldn’t get out of the way and had a whole aisle blocked with their carts and bodies; oblivious to the many people on both sides they were holding up), and garden-variety Mexicans (if they’re US Citizens, they’re “hispanic”, but if they’re Citizens of Mexico, they’re Mexicans), Americans (chocolate and vanilla varieties), and Asians of various origins, I was cursing steadily and non-stop under my breath.  “I will never, ever, ever set foot in this abomination of a store again,” swore I.  I utilized somewhat different vocabulary words for that, but that was the general drift.

Upon arrival at the checkout, the nice young African-American checker was a welcome relief (he speaks English as a native language; he’s polite and nice and southern).  Of course, he had no sacker, so he had to check the customer’s groceries, then sack them himself.

As I waited for him to finish with the nice hispanic lady in front of me, I leaned wearily on my cart (having gotten all my stuff onto the conveyor), and happened to glance up at the front of the store. 

Directly in front of me was the large American flag that adorns every H-E-B grocery store.  Surrounding it in huge letters were the words, “GOD BLESS AMERICA”.

And I’ve rarely been so embarrassed for myself. 

Here I am, lucky enough to have been born in the richest country in the history of humanity, during a time when it ruled the earth for most of my life.  America has always been “The Great Melting Pot”.  We’re from everywhere:  Germans, Swedes, French, African, Asian, English (my own family background); you name it, we’ve got it.  I’m rich by the standards of both 99% of the world’s current population AND my entire family tree.  Dad did well, as did his brothers and sisters and Mom’s brothers and sisters, but the great-grandparents were dirt farmers, all sides.  Mother and Dad told stories of outhouses and kerosene lamps (Dad’s family was rich, they had GASLIGHT).  The great-grandparents on all sides were poor dirt farmers with many children; uneducated, eking out an existence from the land, losing 3-4 children a generation to disease, living with 16 family members, multi-generational, in a clapboard shotgun shack on a farm in Arkansas with newspapers glued to the walls to keep the wind from howling through the cracks between the boards.  They were still better off than THEIR ancestors, who came from England (and a few from Germany) with the clothes on their backs from a Europe where constant war, starvation, hard work, and short lives were the norm.

And all these people I’d been cussing were here for the same reasons my family came here:  a better life for themselves and their children.  Hope for the future.  The American Promise, the American Dream.

Maybe next time, I’ll be a little more tolerant and a little more calm when someone from another country invades my personal space (because in their country of origin, personal space is a luxury no-one even dares to dream).



The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"




While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that's free,
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.
God bless America,
Land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
Through the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America, My home sweet home
God bless America, My home sweet home.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

I am stoopib (but lucky)

Ok, the plan was clear enough: 1:00 pm flight, Hobby to Tulsa; direct flight, meaning the plane stopped in Dallas but I didn't have to get off.

I am an A-list passenger on Southwest, so I can now arrive at the airport only one hour ahead of flight time (remember when we complained about that? The lines now can easily exceed 1 hour; the only way I can get away with it is by being A-list, which gets me in the "First Class" line.

So an hour for security. Probably need to allow 15 minutes or so to park, and it takes 45 minutes to get from my house to Hobby.

Logic would dictate that, if I have a 1:00 flight, I need to leave the house no later than 11. Add (subtract) 15 minutes if leaving from the office.

So, this morning, I had all these plans about leaving on time. I started working (I work from home when I've got an early call at the airport). One of my clients had "this problem", another had "that problem", and I'm sitting there in my shorts and t-shirt (nothing packed yet) working on them.

I look up at the clock: 11:15. Uh-oh. I haven't packed; I have neither showered nor shaved; I have not fed and watered the dogs; the trash is sitting there to be taken out, and I'm officially 15 minutes late leaving if I get in the car RIGHT NOW.

So, my trusty laptop to the ready, I go to Southwest's website to find the next available flight. 7:15pm. NOTHING SOONER. ALL SOLD OUT.


"The Professional Insurance Adjuster SWINGS into action!" (Liberty Mutual training film, ca. 1963). I started throwing things: threw clothes into a suitcase, changed my mind and threw them into my new rolly-garment bag (that exactly fits a Southwest overhead bin), threw the dogs into their crates, threw dog food into their bowls, threw myself into the shower (having given myself a fast swipe with the razor and the teeth a fast swipe with the brush). Slammed it together with amazing (for me) speed and was out the door by 11:47.

By the time I was on the Beltway speeding--er, flying--er, drivng the LEGALLY POSTED SPEED -ahem- around the curve at the Southwest Freeway, it was 12:00. 1 hour to flight time. NEVER going to make it.

But, the traffic was light and I made it to Telephone Rd. without mishap. The lights on Telephone seemed synchronized, there were no cops, and practically no traffic ("Miracles happen every day!" --Oral Roberts).

12:10pm. Swerve off Airport Rd. into the main entrance and curve around to the parking deck entrance. "Parking Deck Closed". All levels "FULL".


Not going to happen.

12:17pm. I go to my favorite Remote Lot. They have two tiers: if you park on Level 1, it's more expensive but you don't have to lug your bags down the elevator to get to the shuttle. So I'm driving around Level 1. Nothing. Almost head-on with a dude in a Nissan SUV. He swerves into a side area and I smirk: "You'll have to back that thing out!" Smirked too soon! He pulled directly into a parking place! There were 3 back there I'd never seen. I swerve into the next spot and start grabbing my stuff (he's got his and is sprinting for the shuttle). Get my stuff and head for the shuttle. As I pull within visual range--she drives off. Dude had made it, running in his suit and dress shoes. I hate running.


Now it's REALLY not going to happen. But, I've come this far...

12:27pm: Next shuttle comes 'round; he listens to my sad tale, gasped out. He drives me directly to the door of the airport.

12:35pm: Through the main door at William P. Hobby Airport.

12:36pm: Arrive at TSA line. Not terrible--I'm A-list, so I go to the "First Class" line. There are about 10 in front of me (as opposed to the 100 or so in the "regular" line. However, a curious thing is happening: the "regular" line is moving at a smart clip; the "First Class" line is stopped. We are informed TSA is opening a new line just for us. We watch them go through their -amazingly slow even for them- motions and FINALLY go through the new line. I have both a laptop and cpap to take out and run through.


Oh, well, I'll go through, try for the gate. If the plane is there, great. If not, I'll beg the nearest Southwest person to take pity.

12:51pm: Through TSA, walking briskly -in flip-flops- through the airport dragging rolly bag and lugging briefcase. Make it to the "Rotunda", where the flights are posted. Gate 24, good (closer). Flight 92, "Boarding". Time on clock on flight posting board: 12:58.

12:58pm: I huff my fat ass down to Gate 24. About 3/4 way, I decide that having a heart attack, asthma attack, or stroke at the airport would cause me to miss the flight anyway, and slow to a walk.

12:59.30pm: I arrive at Gate 24 as the gate agent is walking toward the door to close it. "Wait! I'm on your list! I'm here! I'm here!!!"

She takes my boarding pass and says, "Hurry". I can take a hint.

1:00pm: I am at the door of the plane, which miraculously is open. Flight attendants grimace and pilots smirk, but here I am!

Two seats (middle) left on plane--in the back. NO room for the rolly bag; I ask the lead flight attendant if she wants to gate-check now; "No, just go on back there." So I get to the back of the plane and -unbelievably- they make room for my rolly in the overhead.

They shut the door and off we go. I'm still trying to decide if I need to holler, "I'm comin, Elizabeth!" a la Fred Sanford.

Have a delightful conversation with the nice lady sitting next to me; we comment on the great view of Houston as we depart and then talk all the way to Dallas.

Ah, Dallas.

We land. The Dallas passengers depart. Southwest's method on Direct Flights is to have everyone remain in their seats till they get the count right; when they do, all the "through" passengers move to the front of the plane.

They can't get the count. They can't board the plane till they get the count. They're off--by ONE. Uh-oh.

Gate agent (exasperated): "Ok, I'm going to call your name; when you hear your name, shout "here" so I can count you. If I don't call your name, you're not on the list!"

Guess whose name he does NOT call...

SO, he makes me deplane and take my belongings. Out to the counter I go. The nice man at the counter insists that I'm on the wrong plane! I tell him, "but here is my reservation (thank God for Smartphones), and it shows this flight!" He says, "Look, I'm not lying, come look at my screen!" Nicholas Jones. Of Conroe, Texas. "THAT'S NOT ME! I'M NICK-ALAN JONES of HOUSTON!!!" He looks again. "Well, there was a Nick-Alan Jones scheduled for this flight, but he was a no-show." "Um, sir? I am here! Here's my TDL: it's me! I just got off yonder plane from Houston, on which I was transported. I handed my boarding pass to the nice lady at the gate."

(Grumble grumble) "Well, since you no-showed ("We are here, we are here, We Are Here, WE ARE HERE!!!" --the Whos, "Horton Hears a Who"), the whole reservation cancelled out. You're not on the roster for Tulsa."

"Sir, I need to go to Tulsa. I obviously used an airplane--yours--to get here from Houston. I have a confirmed, paid, and ticketed reservation which you can view on my phone." (I was remarkably calm; I displayed NONE of my usual tendencies. I was practically Spock.)

(Grumble grumble) "I know what happened. She just didn't ding you in when she put you on the plane!" (Aha! Dawn Breaks!). "I'm sorry, sir, it'll just take me a second and I'll get you reinstated."

He hands me a "C" boarding pass. "A C? That's the best you can do when you pulled me off the airplane?" "You're right, sir; just come with me." And with that, he marched me back to the gate and told the gate agent to interrupt the line and board me.

So, I arrive back at the airplane. Pilot asks, "Uhhh, didn't you just get OFF this plane?" I must've looked pitiful, because he patted me on the back. "Where are you going?" "Tulsa!" "Ok, we'll take you to Tulsa right now." "Thank you!"

At last. I make my way to my favorite seat, 5A, which is open. I put my rolly in the overhead (lots o room!). I make the large guy in the aisle seat (turns out he's from Ft. Smith) move so I can get to the window. Sit down. So far, so good.

Flight Attendant: "Ladies and Gentlemen, be sure your carry on luggage is either in an overhead bin or under the seat in front of you."

Carry on luggage.

When I deplaned, and went to the counter, I swung my briefcase up on the counter. When I was marched back to the gate, I left it there. Not only the company's computer, BUT: My enrollment stuff for next year (figured I'd look at it during downtime); my $600 watch; my billfold featuring TDL, debit card, hospital cards, and about $300 cash; my cell phone--everything I need to sustain life as we know it.

I start to try to swim upstream but the onrushing B's and C's are in a hurry. I catch the flight attendant's attention. "I left my briefcase at the desk!"

She--Jasmine--stops boarding, gets another FA to help, and swims upstream, retrieves the briefcase--intact--and delivers it to me at my seat.

3:15 on the dot: We arrive in Tulsa, I sail out to get my rental car, which transaction goes flawlessly (though nothing quite screams "rental" as much as a white Dodge Avenger...). Got to Stillwater in time to meet the girls for dinner at Mexico Joe's (Eskimo Joe's Mexican relative), where I had an amazing concoction: Fajitas--made with chorizo, beer soaked brats, and peppers, topped with sauerkraut and german mustard, accompanied by two very nice beers.

I have to give props to Southwest: They did everything they could to make my flight (that I screwed up by being late) as good as possible. The lovely Jasmine; the kind pilot; the unflappable gate agent in Dallas--all worked to take care of my screwups.

People in Stillwater are very friendly, and our waitress was tops.

Sometimes, it's just better to be lucky than good.

Never heard of this one...

Never heard of this one either--but it was DELICIOUS!