Friday, November 22, 2013

November 22, 1963

We in Miss Caldwell’s first grade class at Leila P. Cowart Elementary School in Dallas were in a frenzy of excitement—the PRESIDENT was in our town!  Being in the then-working-class, solidly Democratic area of Oak Cliff, we were all big JFK fans (especially Jackie).  Our Dads all liked “Jack”, and our Moms all wanted to BE Jackie—they all had the pillbox hats, the Chanel (or Chanel knockoff) suits, the Balenciaga frocks, the heels, gloves, etc. 

The Kennedys had been in Houston the day before, then flew to Ft. Worth, spent the night, and were up for a breakfast meeting early, then flew to Dallas.  It wasn’t a surprise to anyone that they flew from Ft. Worth to Dallas—the Turnpike was the only “freeway” between the two, and it cost the astronomical sum of $4.75 THEN ($36.25 in 2013 $).  We all wanted to go see them, but in my case, my Dad couldn’t get off work and my Mother was still recuperating from surgery, so there was nobody in my house to take me.  It was going to be a big crowd, so many of the Moms didn’t want to brave them without their husbands, and the husbands had to work.  That was the era….

So we were sitting there in class when our Principal came over the loudspeaker.  This was unnerving in a variety of ways.  First, it was the middle of the morning.  That never happened.  Second, and more alarmingly, he was crying (trying not to do so).  That REALLY never happened, because men didn’t cry publicly then, AT ALL.  He told us the President had been shot, school was closed, and we were all to go home.  THAT was a shocker—school letting out in the middle of the day!?!  Then it got worse!  Our pretty young teacher (she was probably 24 or 25, fresh out of TCU), put her head down on her desk and sobbed.  She had brunette hair in a Jackie Kennedy “flip”, and cats-eye glasses, and always wore pretty clothes.  She was a cheerful person and we all loved her.  For her to react like this, just after Mr. Pennington (Principal) had cried, and school out—wowsers.

Normally, Mother either walked or drove me to school.  There was a busy road I had to cross, and even though there was a crossing guard, Mother wasn’t taking any chances.  She had lost my older sister, and she wasn’t losing another child.

Well, today, not only was Mother NOT there, neither was the crossing guard!  I made it across that busy street and walked home.  When I got there, more weirdness:  Mother and Grannie were sitting on the sofa, both crying, both with hands at their mouths, glued to the set.  We watched that TV for the next 3 days, a black and white Philco; the color Philco on which Dad had splurged was in the shop and this was their “loaner”.

My Dad knew the Detective in the white “LBJ” hat looking so surprised when Oswald was shot in the famous picture; I forget the man’s name.  He, too, lived in Oak Cliff and I think he and Dad were on the same bowling league.  Dad intimated that he had many thoughts he did NOT put down in his book, out of outright fear.

>>o<<

I was too young then to appreciate all the subtle ramifications of the assassination.  Big John Connally, the Texas Governor, had been shot as well; I liked Big John.  I liked President Kennedy too.  Of course, his death meant that Lyndon Johnson of Texas ascended to the Presidency, and it was cool to have the news talk about “The Texas White House” all the time.

Growing up, I did, in fact, hear people refer to Dallas as “The City of Hate”, and I couldn’t fathom why.  WE didn’t kill him!  All of MY friends and relatives were big fans!  (It took J. R. Ewing to change Dallas’s image, literally).

>>o<<

I’ve now been fascinated with the story for 50 years, have seen all the documentaries; read the actual Warren Commission Report (what a pack of lies that is…); heard all the conspiracy theories, thought of a few myself.  I’ve seen the autopsy pictures (they’re on the internet).  I’ve spent quality time in the “sniper’s perch” at the former Texas School Book Depository.  I’ve also (since 1963) learned how to shoot both a handgun and a rifle.  I’m actually a pretty good shot (though far from a sharpshooter). 

My conclusions:

  1. I don’t know who killed Jack Kennedy.
  2. I know the “Magic Bullet” is a work of fiction.
  3. I know Lee Harvey Oswald was a trained sharpshooter, and I know how to shoot a gun, and I cannot fathom why Oswald would pass up a straight, clear, dead-on headshot from short range (as the car came crawling down Houston St.) for a much more difficult angled shot while the car was moving away and picking up speed.  Lee Oswald MAY have shot at Jack Kennedy—but he didn’t kill him.  YOU’LL NEVER CONVINCE ME THAT LEE HARVEY OSWALD KILLED JACK KENNEDY.  It just didn’t happen.
  4. I just revisited the infamous “grassy knoll” earlier this year.  Many reported shots from there.  It was a perfect place for a concealed sniper to take shots.
  5. Oliver Stone makes great fictional movies.
  6. I’ve been to the Texas School Book Depository; the “Grassy Knoll”, the Ford Museum in Detroit (where sits the infamous “bubbletop” limousine, though it was stripped to the rails after 11/22/63 and re-built).  I’ve been to the Kennedy Library in Boston.  I’ve sat in the “Kennedy Seat” at Ye Olde Oyster House.  I can show you where Jack Ruby’s nightclub was (it’s now all yuppified and that building was torn down decades ago), and I can show you the exit from the –then- Dallas County Jail (now boarded up) wherefrom they were going to take Oswald when Ruby shot him.  I STILL don’t know who killed him or why, and I never will.  The government has the information, I’m convinced.  They’ll never let it go.  Does that mean the government itself did it?  Maybe.  Or maybe it was the Cubans.  Or the Russians.  Or the Martians….

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Funny angle for a shot from the School Book Depository, when you had a straight-on close-up headshot while the motorcade was on Houston St.—but a PERFECT shot from the top of the “Grassy Knoll”, which includes a decorative concrete wall with slots and lots of bushes….

>>o<<

Implications:

Why is this one man’s death still resonating across half a century now?  Romantic, tragic, mysterious; all these, of course.

The butterfly effect theory is that if a butterfly flaps its wings, somewhere around the world a hurricane forms.

The Kennedy Assassination was like that.  It had many more far-reaching effects than I can ennumerate, but: 

  • Lyndon would never have become President.  Kennedy actually was weak on Civil Rights (BOBBY was the one who was passionate about civil rights; Jack liked the idea, but wasn’t going to rock the boat too much).  Lyndon was going to HAVE Civil Rights legislation, and with the help of Sam Rayburn in the House and many of his old Senate cronies including Everett Dirksen, a Republican, he was able to get the Civil Rights Act of 1964 pushed through.  That changed the world.
  • Would Jack have prosecuted the Vietnam War?  It was his advisor, Robert McNamara, one of the “brain trust” guys, who pushed it.  Rumor has it that Kennedy had on his desk an order to withdraw the “advisors” from Vietnam when he left for Texas.  Vietnam tore this country apart (and we lost, that “Peace with Honor” shit is just that…shit).  It also reinforced the precedent of US military intervention in the affairs of other countries without a declaration of war by Congress.  This has led to all kinds of adventures:  Grenada, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Africa, and of course Iraq and Afghanistan.  “Afghanistan—where Empires go to die”.
  • Ike warned us of the “Military Industrial Complex”.  I can tell you that this is absolutely true.  The tail does wag the dog, and continues to do so.  Is the best offense a good defense?  Absolutely!  Do we need a strong military?  Damn right.  What the military-industrial complex does, though, is crafty:  all these little wars are test-runs for some new tech they want to try out in “real-time”.  Where I get bent is that they use the lives of our US Military Personnel as just one more pawn on the board---“so we waste a few, so what?”  Each and every Military life is of more value to me than all the military-industrial complex taken together.  You don’t waste their lives.  If we need to defend our country—that’s what they signed up for.  Test some new system in the jungle in Africa, killing a few grunts/soldiers along the way?  FUCK YOU, find some other way to test.
  • Jack Kennedy was no friend to the Military-Industrial complex, so how would that have turned out?

There have been, in my experience (and that of my parents), three events that changed the world forever.  Everyone then alive remembers exactly where they were, what they were doing, even what they were wearing.  It’s frozen in time; crystallized; preserved in amber for all their lives.  There was the time before—and the time after.  The world was noticeably, markedly different on either side of the event.  In fact, one only need refer to the dates:

  • December 7, 1941
  • November 22, 1963
  • September 11, 2001

Because my generation’s world was turned on its end while we were children/teenagers, it affected us all our lives.  Two cohorts—the “hippies” who were the first part of the Baby Boomers and the “Me” generation that was the second –my- half.  The hippies were in high school and college; they’re the ones who rioted and protested and otherwise acted out (and might not have, had Kennedy lived).  We kids were terrified by everything that went on—the Cuban Missile Crisis (we were literally told we might die—as 5 and 6 year olds—and what the missiles would sound/look like, and that if we never saw our parents again, this is what to do.  Heavy stuff for a kid, scarred us), then the THREE political assassinations of people who appeared to be “ours”, who spoke to “us”:  Jack Kennedy, his brother Bobby, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  All great men, all talking the same basic talk, all mowed down.  Hmmmm.  Vietnam was a quagmire our government mired us in.  Hmmmm.  “You’re going to die in a bright flash of nuclear fire.”  Hmmmm. 

Those things shaped us as people.  As a result, many of my generation developed political views that directly or indirectly grew out of those events.  Because we were in charge, running the thing, from 1992 to 2008 (Obama is a leading-edge Gen-X’er), many of the decisions we made (look at the administrations of Clinton and Bush closely) derived directly from these experiences.  The consequences of these decisions will be felt for the rest of our lives.  Our generation has polarized (strict liberal and strict conservative; see Congress, US), and will remain so.  It will remain up to the younger generations to try to fix the damage we’ve caused.  We are who we are because of the times in which we were raised.

The world continues to resonate because this man was shot.

Rest in Peace, Jack.

JFK

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Emotional Roller-Coaster Week

As I have said before in this blog, when I was a kid, we lived at various postings in Texas while Dad pursued his career (he would say, “made a living”) at various places in Texas.  We spent every bit of vacation possible in Malvern, Arkansas, Mother and Dad’s (and my) hometown. 

scan0166_edited-1While Grannie (Mother’s mother, who lived with us) spent her time over at her other daughter’s (2 blocks down the street), we stayed with Dad’s parents on Sullenberger.  Granny (Dad’s mother) had her house fixed “just-so”; she had (after 4 kids and the grinding poverty of the Great Depression) finally gotten nice stuff in a nice house.  She had “set-outs” everywhere (breakables) and antique furniture.

I’m sure kids rampaging (with muddy feet) through her pristine house gave her hives, and I’m sure she was glad when it was time for us to go so she could get back to normal.

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But, in a never-varying routine, as we’d make final preparations and start loading ourselves into the car, she’d start crying.  She and Gramp would stand in the carport, on the steps, and she’d boo-hoo into a white linen handkerchief while we drove away, looking not unlike the Joads in “The Grapes of Wrath”, station wagon packed, kids, dogs, Grannie, etc.  I’m sure she cried on and off the rest of the day while she cleaned and tried to “re-set” her house.

I always thought it a bit silly; I mean, come on, we’ll be back shortly!  And we’ll be getting muddy and running through the house and playing the stereo too loud and getting called down—again--

But…she cried.

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Matt came to see me for a week!  He had planned to stay longer, but it worked out that he needed to go home on Monday, so Monday morning, I drove him out to Bush Intercontinental Airport and put him on a plane.  We hugged several times in the airport, and he turned to get in the TSA line and I turned to walk out (old superstition:  never look back, and never watch them all the way out of sight). 

I bawled all the way to the car and all the way home.  The house was so empty when I got home; his smile and sunny presence lights up any room he’s in. 

So now I know how you felt, Granny.

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Work has been rough this week, so there’s certainly that---welcome back to my stressy life. 

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Finally, my dear friend Paul Williams “membered” me in a Baylor Gay Former Student organization on facebook.  I glanced through it; I’ll remain a member of it but I think I’ll hide the updates.  Reading through it brought back all the hurt and trauma I suffered as a student there.  Princeton’s Review listed it as the 12th most unfriendly college/university in the nation for gay individuals (right up there with University of Dallas (the private catholic institution), Texas A&M, and Auburn). 

Just this week, the student body President vetoed legislation that would make life easier for “homo-sexual” students (really?  REALLY?  It would break your fingers to type LGBT?), saying that “homo-sexual” students were basically in the same boat with child-molesters, rapists, and mentally-ill individuals. 

While I applaud the group’s goal of trying to get the university to demonize us a little less, I don’t really know why that’s a good idea.  Those people hate us.  Hate.  Us.  They’re not “Christians” in any sense of the word, at least not the way I thought Christians were supposed to behave.  Let them live in their own evil little land, spewing hate, and spend efforts instead to get gay students to consider going to college in a more open-minded atmosphere, where they can openly socialize (walking down the street holding hands at Baylor is a “Homo-sexual act”, punishable by expulsion; I’m sure they’d prefer “execution”).  Young gay people:  go to a school where you can meet other gay people, have friends, maybe meet a boyfriend or girlfriend!  Where you can have real dates, instead of furtive middle-of-the-night meetings for quick sex under the Chi Omega bridge, then dying of fear that someone might see you.

  Sigma Delta Phia

^^^Smiling on the outside, crying on the inside—You have no idea how miserable I was when this picture was made….  I had had a “date” 3 days before.  The “date” consisted of meeting this guy at Denny’s.  We couldn’t talk about anything a normal “date” conversation might cover, because someone in one of the surrounding booths might have heard and turned us in.  We both lived in dorms with roommates.  We wound up walking down the creek and, um, the rest of that story you can figure out.  Point is, we couldn’t have a normal “date” because, had we, say, held hands at Denny’s, that would have been presumption of homo-sexuality and we’d have been expelled—AND told how our souls were going to burn in hell….  And people wonder why I don’t believe this rot any more…. Meanwhile, all our little straight friends were doing the horizontal mambo any way they wanted, any time they wanted.  They’d have been cautioned, had fingers shaken at them, etc, IF caught IN THE ACT ITSELF.  Otherwise, perfectly ok for them to be all over each other in public….

If you’re gay at Baylor (or one of the other hate-filled Christian schools, or Texas redneck establishments like Texas A&M), TRANSFER.  That’s one of the two real regrets I have In my life; I wanted to transfer, decided people would think I was a “quitter”.  I should have done it.  If you discover you’re gay WHILE at Baylor et al, find another school.  Don’t waste a minute of your life on misery.

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So what’s the point of this blog?  Emotional roller-coaster for me this week—love and sunshine with Matt (who’s going through some things himself, but generously shares his light, his laughter, and his smile with everyone he meets), pang at his departure, stress at work, then re-living all this Baylor crap. 

Not to mention the condition of the Arkansas football team (we’re going to have to give Bielema time to build his system), the Dallas Cowboys (no relief as long as Jerruh has Romo), and the Texans (what a bomb-out)

>>o<<

It’s not all bad.

Nathan called me yesterday.  He’s my adopted “son”.  We had a great conversation about not much, just visiting, but it made me feel soooo good to see his name on the caller-id.

I decided to go see Dad this weekend.  Dad is pushing 90.  If Matt’s visit gave me that much love (and for the prurient, there’s nothing going there other than friendship), and Nathan’s call picked me up so much, maybe mine do the same for Dad. 

So, ending on a high note.

Next blog will be some of the pictures Matt and I took while he was here.  He’s an enormously talented photographer; I loved his photos.  Next time, happy thoughts!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Looking Through a Fresh Pair of Eyes

My friend Matt is here visiting and I am having a wonderful time showing him around Houston.

He loves photography, so we’ve had a great time running around snapping pictures; we started out with me using the new(er) D90 and Matt using my old D50.  After a while, though, and seeing some of the things he produced, I just let him start using the D90 full-time.

He’s a very talented photographer.  I have a lot of photos of the things we’ve shot—but Matt has a fresh perspective.  His photos are amazing.

It’s been fun seeing the same things I see every day through a fresh set of eyes.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Coming Home

I was so overwhelmed with a feeling today that I posted it on Facebook:

I love it when I have been somewhere – San Antonio and Austin particularly – and as I am coming back, suddenly the land flattens out, the freeway widens out, the sky gets bigger, the traffic goes faster, and I know I'm home. Hello, Houston.

I’d say that was an original idea, but I’d be lying.

Mother had a bit of a rough time growing up.  Their family didn’t do well during the Great Depression (I’ll tell that at some point, I’ve touched on it before).  When she and Dad moved to Dallas in 1948, in her mind she had “arrived”, had shed that small town (Malvern) for the rest of her life.  She really didn’t even want to go back for visits, but (1) they were broke and (2) Dad wanted to see his parents (Mother always wanted to see her family too—that usually lasted about 2 hours….); so, back to Malvern we went.  I thought it wonderful; I spent the summers there, doted upon by grandparents, getting into mild trouble with my cousins and friends (it is very hard to explain to the State Trooper, who happens to be a cousin as well, how it is that you and a whole bunch of your—also underage—friends are piled into a 1962 Impala Sport Sedan, rocketing down “Number Nine” (Ark. State Hwy 9) with a whole trunk full of beer….). 

Mother was not a fan of her birthplace.  Let’s just say she had a love/hate relationship with it.

So, we’d go to Arkansas; her family would get into the inevitable argument (which we would discuss in detail at least to Texarkana), Dad’s mother would wear herself all the way out putting 3 feasts (“meal” does not do them justice) on the table per day while we were there; besides, we were noisy and messy and it frayed her nerves.  She and Gramp always stood in the carport as we backed out of the driveway, and she inevitably started crying (even though she was probably glad we were leaving). 

It was an onerous trip on US 67.  East Texas Motor Freight.  They’d plod along at 35 mph (in a 60 zone) and there’d be a huge line of cars waiting to pass.  Dad would floor that 348 V8 and whip out to pass; Mother would bite her lip till it bled trying not to scream.  Me, my sister, and Grandmother (Mother’s mother lived with us) in the back seat, along with whatever dog collection we had at the time.  8 hours.  No a/c. 

Once IH 30 opened up and cars started having a/c (our 63 Impala wagon was the first; pretty luxurious—a/c, power windows, all the trimmings), Dad would rocket along at a comfortable 80 mph (speed limit in Arkansas then:  75). 

The Arkansas Highway Department and the Texas Highway Department took slightly different approaches to Interstate construction.  Arkansas’ were skinny, with a narrow median that occasionally flared with hills and tall pine trees.  Texas went with a very wide approach, and Texas had “Frontage Roads”.  Arkansas had some, occasionally, but much of the time, you’d travel down a tunnel of tall pine trees on the narrow interstate lanes.  You still do.

When we’d hit the State Line at Texarkana (before Texarkana moved out to the interstate, there wasn’t much there), as Mother told me many times, “the road widens out and the trees are cut way back and you can BREATHE.”  Always claustrophobic, my mother.  (and the older I get, the more like her I am)

So now, every time I go to San Antonio or Austin, driving through the ugly Texas prairie, rolling hills, heavy traffic on overburdened 4-lane interstates designed for 1955—suddenly, at Brookshire, Texas, the topography changes.  That rolling prairie give way to the flat Gulf Coastal plain.  The sky becomes larger.  The little white puffy clouds (of which I’m so fond) appear.  Then, at Peach Orchard Road, the freeway opens up and becomes the Katy Freeway.  It widens out, the feeder roads recede, the sky becomes bigger, the traffic faster—and I’m back in Houston. 

Home.

>>o<<

For many years, I called Malvern “home”.  I started my life in Dallas; we moved to Corpus Christi, Ft. Worth, then San Antonio for Dad’s job, moving at least twice in each city.  Poor old Dad would get about (maybe) 2 weeks notice he was being transferred.  He’d get a per diem to go to the new city and find housing.  Dad’s taste could never keep up with Mother’s.  He usually worked somewhere near either the USAF base or the airport (depending).  He was a jet aircraft engineer, so he worked around—jet engines.  So, knowing not much about wherever it was he was going, he’d find the base or the airport, then find a house as close as he could get, so as  not to fight the traffic.  He never could (and can’t) gauge neighborhoods.  At one place, we drove up, and all Mother could manage was, “Oh, HONEY!”  My sister, grandmother and I were saying, “surely not”.  “What’s wrong with it?”  “It’s a DUMP!  in a CRAPPY NEIGHBORHOOD!”  etc.  So, we would immediately look for somewhere nicer to move—and move there.  Sometimes twice.

The whole family loved Corpus Christi—except me.  I had to get two shots (big needles) in each arm (that’s 4) each WEEK for allergies.  Everybody loved beachcombing, looking for shells.  Not me.  I do love the Gulf (now), but I still have no desire to beachcomb.  Walk down the Seawall at Galveston?  You bet!  Lounge on the beach in a chair under an umbrella?  Let’s go NOW.  Beachcomb?  Forget it.

We moved to Ft. Worth, my allergies subsided, I made some great friends.  I loved (and still do) the Metroplex.  I loved our house in Ft. Worth (classy!  great neighborhood!), loved my friends, my schools, etc.

Then we had one of those two-week wonders and moved to San Antonio.  Dad couldn’t help it, he HAD to go, but I blamed him for it for years. 

I HATED San Antonio.  DESPISED IT.  Many people have the time of their lives in high school  I HATED IT.  Huge school where I knew NO ONE (back in Ft. Worth, my friends were having a blast, we wrote letters (prehistoric email).  I didn’t like the culture at the school (lots of drugs, lots of thugs, lots of taunting because I was (a closeted) gay; bars on the windows; locker searches (forced); patrols in the halls.  Smorgasbord of races.  This was the early 70’s and they all hated each other, but they all especially hated WHITES (I can’t help the color of my skin).  Different bathrooms controlled by different groups; there was the black bathroom, the hispanic bathroom, the asian bathroom, the druggie bathroom, the “kicker” (now “redneck”) bathroom—I had ONE bathroom on the huge campus I could use without fear or without having my money extorted, and it was far out of the way.  So I held it a lot.

I had lots of friends at church, sang in the choir, but always felt like a fraud.  I was just in it for the friends (and we did have a great time).  I’m still friends with many of those people.  The fact that I made friends with them, however, did not alleviate the hell of high school.

So when I left San Antonio for college, I never looked back.

And you know?  I STILL don’t like it.  It’s very quaint and touristy, all right, and yes, there are some heavenly mexican restaurants.  That’s about all it’s got going for it.  I really dislike the town.

I never liked Austin.  While living with liberals would be refreshing, Austin has that smug “hipster” attitude shared with its sister cities Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco.  I don’t like that, either.

Plus, both cities are shot-through with mesquite trees.  I am deathly allergic go mesquite pollen.

Malvern, Arkansas was my home for 15 years, but it’s dead to me now.  There’s nothing there of my family, friends, or anything I remember.  It’s a ruin.  It’s not the same.  It’s no longer “home”.

My other “home” is Fayetteville, Arkansas, but I’ve never lived there and may never.  But, it’s the Home of the Razorbacks and therefore, home for me.

So, to bring this long rant nobody will read to a close—when I’ve been forced to go to San Antonio or Austin, and get to Brookshire, and the land flattens out, and the freeway widens out, and the sky gets bigger, and the traffic speeds up—I’m home.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Grand Canyon

Well, my “big trip” turned off cold, wet, and rainy, but I got a few shots (I admit, I photoshopped them pretty heavily in some instances to clear them up so you can see what I saw.).  Click the picture for larger.

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^^^^(same as above, just black and white.)

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Lockheed Constellation

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

9/11

Well, since many of my friends have written their 9/11 stories, I suppose I will write mine.  Mine pale compared with some, and certainly with any of those from people who lived in the City that day.  But I have two disconnected stories, and since this blog is really more of a diary than a blog (thank you faithful readers, all 4 of you), I figure I might as well write them down while I still remember them….

I started out in Houston, moved back to Dallas, then to Los Angeles, then back to Dallas.  I was living in Dallas in the late 80’s.  In most of the office buildings there then (as today) there is a little shop/burger bar/convenience store featuring some kind of (usually) edible items, along with the usual assortment of candy, Cokes, etc.  The food in our little cafĂ© was REALLY good, surprisingly so.  It was my first introduction into Iranian food.  The proprietor, Amir, a genial man with laughing eyes, always with a joke, a smile, a positive attitude, was a fabulous cook and prepared his family dishes.  We lapped them up.  If he wasn’t too busy, we’d invite him to join us, and eventually he told us his story.

Amir’s father was one of the “big” generals of the Shah of Iran (no, I don’t remember his name).  Amir was a happy-go-lucky student at the University of Tehran, majoring primarily in girls.  The family had money—Amir’s mother went shopping in her chauffeured Benz—so there wasn’t a LOT of pressure on him to graduate.  He was taking a leisurely course through college.  One morning, however, a teacher brought him an urgent communique from his father—“Come home immediately.”  Fearing for his family members (“Is Mother sick?”) he raced home.  His father was in his full “Imperial” uniform.  “Hurry, grab what you must have and get in the car, there’s no time!”  The Benz tore past the security at the airport and pulled up beside a waiting plane.  The family piled out and boarded—except for Dad.  He stood back, threw his most full, powerful salute, and watched his family fly to freedom.  He was executed 2 months later, on television.

Amir and his family arrived in New York with nothing—no money, no friends, very rudimentary english.  They had a distant cousin in northern New Jersey, and to the cousin they went.  Amir learned enough to fake his way into driving a cab, and did so for years, carefully saving money.

His brother found work in Dallas and soon Amir went for a visit.  He fell in love with it, and soon was running the little snack bar and regaling us with his stories.

After a while, though, he got an opportunity he could not refuse—one of his friends was going to sell his store in New York.  Amir sold out in Dallas and returned to New York, leaving us with those awful pre-prepared pimento cheese sandwiches on cardboard….

The next year, my company became ambitious and sent ME to New York.  I love New York; once you live there, a part of you is always a New Yorker. 

The first year, you’re a tourist—don’t go to sleep, you might miss something!  It’s Disneyland for grownups!  Ride the rides!  See the shows!  Eat the food! 

The second year you are a New Yorker.  You KNOW.  You can get around effortlessly, you know when the best time to visit each museum is, you know the best dim sum (the rest of the country had never heard of dim sum), the best falafel, the best burger, the coldest beer, the best deli, the best place to get a “pie” (New York for “pizza”).  I still find myself standing “ON” line, rather than “IN” line. 

The third year, somehow the glitz has faded a bit.  It’s hard to be glamorous when your best outfit has just been splashed with the black slush in the street from a passing M5 bus.  You start missing your car.  I have been peed upon by another adult human being one time---in New York. 

We were smug, we New Yorkers, in our own greatness.  A visit to the Trade Center was special, even for New York  It is impossible (and I tear up trying) to describe High Tea at Windows on the World.  The food:  sublime.  The service:  astonishing.  The atmosphere:  priceless.  Ordering another pitcher of martini’s, having them whisper down the throat as the sun sinks and the lights begin to come on….Alas, alas that great city Babylon, that mighty city!

In any event, I had a lot of business in the Trade Center (lots of insurance brokerages and law firms there), and was a frequent visitor. 

You took the #1 train, because it stopped there.  You could take the #2 (limited) or #3 (express) from Times Square, but that could be fraught with peril—the #1 trains were the new Japanese jobs, silent, graffiti-less, gleaming stainless steel with a/c that WORKED, while it was a crapshoot on the old bumpy, much painted, much graffiti-ed, sometimes ratty—as in, rats running through—though they got you there much faster. 

I got off the #1 train one day, happy-go-lucky, heading for an appointment when I heard yelling.  Yelling in NYC has two timbres:  street-corner prophets yelling about the end of the world (tune out) and urgent yelling, like NYPD yelling, “GET DOWN!”  This was that second timbre and I immediately turned to look.  the yelling was coming from Amir, who had seen me walk by his shop on the mezzanine of the South Tower and chased after me.  The cops were on the alert until we grabbed and hugged each other ferociously, obviously long-lost friends.  The cops went back to their doughnuts and Amir and I had much to say.  I went to my appointment and when I was through, spent the rest of the day with him, catching up.  He owned the little shop In the mezzanine in the South Tower, he was very very proud of it.  He proudly showed the pictures of his sons and his lovely wife.  He invited me to his home but I had other obligations, and demurred, saying we would do it another time.  As I walked away, I turned and saw him standing in the door of the shop, arm raised in farewell.  I raised mine as well. 

I never saw him again.  You know, you get busy and things go on and such, I was young and living in the most exciting city on the earth—we lost touch.  I moved back to Dallas, then to Nashville, then Little Rock.

>>o<<

Those who know me well know of my 6th sense, my “spidey sense”, “guardian angel”, “psychic ability”, whatever you want to call it.  It has saved my neck many times.  Usually, at the time, I am not consciously aware, but I will suddenly hit a whole set of obstacles and then find out later why.  Nowadays, I recognize it more easily and heed it more consciously.

Arkansas played a disastrous game to open our new Stadium in Fayetteville.  The game was against Tennessee and it was marred by a ferocious lightning storm.  My buddy Rob had come up for the game; I had to hustle him out that Sunday after the game; I had suddenly acquired a business trip to Charleston, West Virginia.  (I rarely choose my trips, they choose me).  I had to leave Sunday and fly all day—there is no good way to get from Little Rock, Arkansas to Charleston, West Virginia.  I finally wound up with a not-too-bad American deal—American LIT to DFW, DFW to STL, then STL to Charleston.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  Got there Sunday night, spent the night at the Hampton, got up next morning and had my meeting, then headed to the airport to see if I could squeeze on a better flight.

There had been a storm in the midwest and American was AFU (figure out what that stands for).  The guy before me in line was an asshole, berating the poor gate agent.  He finally stormed off and she wearily said, “Next”.  I got to the front, said, “Ma’am?”, she looked up.  “Take a minute and take a few deep cleansing breaths.  Stretch a second.  I’ll wait.  We’re not going anywhere.  Take a second.”  She did—and by golly, she was going to get me to my destination.  It’s amazing how far a little kindness will go.

She routed and routed, finally coming up with a bizarre but workable solution.  “Ok, here’s the deal, just hear me out….Charleston to LaGuardia.  LGA to Miami.  Miami to Dallas.  No extra charge.”  I said, “Book it!” and cheerfully boarded my flight for LGA.

It was one of those spectacular fall days in New York City that seems straight out of a storybook, or a picture postcard.  Blue sky, you could see to Jupiter.  Bright yellow sun outlining all the brilliant, crazy, wonderful shapes that are New York, the most marvelous place on the earth.  We took off from LGA and, as luck would have it, we took a path known to many a New Yorker, the same path that would many years later be taken by Sully Sullenberger—take off, bank sharp left, come straight back down the Hudson.  Beautiful, spectacular views.  We got to the World Trade Center (which I had seen thousands of times at least) and I suddenly, without warning (to myself or others), and out of the clear blue sky burst into tears.  I do cry easily, but I “mist up”.  I do not burst into tears; I do not bawl; I do not “boo hoo”.  I couldn’t stop all of the above.  The flight attendant came to see if I was all right.  Every time I’d look at the WTC, I’d start a fresh round.  I had no explanation but was inconsolable the entire rest of the flight to Miami, thence on to Dallas. 

The date was September 10, 2011.

>>o<<

denouement:  I arrived at LIT very, very late at night, then had another hour drive home.  I was exhausted and, as I could then, dropped into bed.  Woke up late the next morning (hey, it was my company…) and padded into the kitchen.  This still occurs.  “Let. Dog. Out. Coffee. Must. Have. Coffee.”  So, I fixed my coffee and padded into the room I used as a den/office.  Flipped on the TV and they had some stupid disaster movie on—WTC on fire.  Where was the freaking Today Show?  I flipped to CBS—same movie.  With enough java juice, it dawned on me that there apparently was a fire in one of the twin towers.  Geez!  and I was just there yesterday! 

As my slow brain made this realization, the second plane hit the South Tower.  It was one of those moments (I don’t like them) when you go from either all or 3/4 asleep to suddenly all-the-way-awake, every pore, every bone, cobwebs gone, on the alert, adrenalin pumping---and I thought, “OH MY GOD, WE’RE BEING ATTACKED!”

As first one, then the other, of the magnificent twin towers sank in a flaming pile of debris, as people leapt to their deaths, as brave firemen and policemen gave their lives to help others, suddenly it struck me like a thunderbolt:  I had seen these towers YESTERDAY.  And wept bitterly.  Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen…Alas, alas that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is your judgment come….(it’s bad to remember all these bible verses at the wrong time).

>>o<<

So there you have it, my 9/11 stories.  I prefer not to dwell on it.  It makes me very sad.  The loss of life was horrendous, the entire country staggered.  I’ve never told those stories publicly before, only to close friends.  But, here they are.

Maybe someday, I’ll have the courage to write down some of my –other- stories.

Meanwhile, let’s salute the City with the Chairman:

 

Start spreading the news
I am leaving today
I want to be a part of it
New York, New York

These vagabond shoes
They are longing to stray
Right through the very heart of it
New York, New York

I want to wake up in that city
That doesn't sleep
And find I'm king of the hill
Top of the heap

My little town blues
They are melting away
I gonna make a brand new start of it
In old New York

If I can make it there
I'll make it anywhere
It's up to you
New York, New York

New York, New York
I want to wake up in that city
That never sleeps
And find I'm king of the hill
Top of the list
Head of the heap
King of the hill

These are little town blues
They have all melted away
I am about to make a brand new start of it
Right there in old New York

And you bet baby
If I can make it there
You know, I'm gonna make it just about anywhere
Come on, come through
New York, New York, New York

Saturday, September 7, 2013

A Special Thank You

To the Houstonian( s) whose heir( s)(?) donated (to the Goodwill on Katy Freeway at Beltway 8) your exquisitely tasteful (we will overlook the Carpenters in light of the Brahms, Beethoven, Bach, Bizet, and Bing) collection of (anal-retentively maintained) albums, with a plastic dust jacket covering each album cover, which contains the flawless, like-new records: 

Having inspected a couple of your records and having figured out what they were, I looked frantically through the rack and found as many of the rest as were left; I then (gulp—even at Goodwill prices…) bought the lot.  I promise that I will endeavor to maintain them as well as you did, and I will toast you when I listen to them.

So thank you, whoever and wherever you are.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Photo Practice: Galveston

Trying to learn the camera, trying to learn PhotoShop (at least the rudiments of both) before my big trip this upcoming weekend.

I went to Galveston yesterday.  I don’t know why I don’t go more, it’s 45 minutes down the road and is a great trip.  Sitting on the seawall looking at the Gulf is great.  I didn’t go to “The Spot” this time, but only because I didn’t want alcohol when I had to drive back.

The Strand is a great photo op, the only part of Galveston that survived the 1901 Hurricane.  (If you’re interested in the 1901 Hurricane, read Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larsen.)

In any event, we proved:  (1) I’ve got a lot to learn about photography, the Nikon D90, and Photoshop Elements 11, and (2) I am too old and tottery to climb around on the jettys any more (sad face).  Well, worse things are coming….

All the below are with my Nikon D90 except those denoted in the comments as “iPhone 5”.

My efforts from yesterday:  (Click for full-size)

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^You really do need to click this one.  I really shouldn’t do these, I risked a lot; I was driving, slowed down, and shot a burst of shots to make a panorama, getting horn-blasted by the christian in the minivan behind me whom I was making late to church (it was Sunday morning, everybody in the car dressed up; he honked, shook his fist, then sped around me while telling me I was #1 with his finger.  Nice going, Dad, in your minivan with the kids in the back.  Great example, and fine example of christianity…just reinforces what the rest of us think of you….)  This is the best view in Houston; I call it “Power and Money” because that’s what it is.  From left to right:  Galleria area (bookended by San Felipe Place (left) and the Transco/Williams Tower (right), larger than downtown Denver.  In the background between the Transco and Greenway Plaza, you see some “purple” buildings in the distance; that’s downtown Houston.  Further to the right are the towers of the Texas Medical Center, the largest accumulation of medical professionals in the world.  Immediately in front of you is the Southwest Freeway, and you can see the stack where it merges with the West Loop, the busiest intersection in Texas, one of the 5 busiest in North America, and the only 5-level stack in North America.  Power and Money.

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^Whenever going to Galveston, I always stop at Kelley’s.  It’s NOT on my diet.  The Texas Breakfast, chicken-fried steak, grits, 2 eggs, biscuit and gravy, coffee, $10.  And the waitress calls you “hun” en espanol.  Kelley was a Houston Police motorcycle cop who was in the honor guard for JFK and Jackie when they paraded through Houston on November 21, 1963.  Kelley was later injured, and wound up being off the force.  He bought an old Rexall drug store and started his restaurant, which is still frequented by virtually the entire HPD (you’re very safe there).  One of my favourite things in Houston. iPhone 5

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^This is the Texas Breakfast.  Chicken Fried Steak w/ cream gravy, grits, 2 eggs, biscuit and more cream gravy, coffee with cream.  Heart attack special.  As I tweeted, it’s gonna take a lot of bike rides to pay for that one, but it was worth it.  $10 + tip.  And the waitresses call you “hon” en espanol.  And yes, I ate all of it and no, I’m not ashamed.

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The view from my seat at Kelley’s.  South Texas—Puffy little white clouds, palm trees—and a packed Gulf Freeway….Winking smile

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^Speaking of “packed Gulf Freeway”, I should have left a couple of hours earlier.  Gulf Freeway (IH 45) Southbound at Beltway 8.  iPhone 5

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^The Strand, “The Wall Street of the Southwest” ca. 1901, the central business district of the largest city in Texas in 1901, the biggest port, the richest, etc.  Dallas and Houston where?  San Antonio who?  These people ran the state.  The Strand, being on the highest ground on the island, survived the storm.  Most of the residences did not.  Again, read Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larsen (Isaac Cline was the Weather Bureau Chief in 1901; it’s a fascinating book.  His office was on The Strand, on the left side of the picture about 2 blocks down). The Strand is now a shopping district, almost wholly gay-owned/operated.  The Galveston Mardi Gras parade and Gay Pride parade go down this street, with throngs of people on the sidewalks and hanging off the balconies, a la New Orleans.  It’s very much like New Orleans.  Shops below, people live above in lavishly decorated apartments that belie the somewhat run-down look of the exteriors.  At the end of the street, the old Santa Fe railroad station now hosts the Galveston Railroad Museum, my next photoshoot when I’m bored on the weekend.

Following are just some architectural things I liked:

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^Galveston is now a very busy cruise port.  The Carnival Magic, one of their biggest ships, is ported here.  Nathan and Pam got off this ship the night before I took the picture.  It’s 2 blocks from The Strand.

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^I love this one and don’t remember having seen it before.  Maybe it’s freshly restored?

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^This one really is yellow.  Love all the colours.

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^Love this one too, and also don’t remember it.  I can identify the architectural style on this one:  Richardsonian Romanesque.

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^Didn’t the City National Bank look imposing?  A safe place for your cash.

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^The Tremont House—huge, imposing, glamourous, grand, and still one of Galveston’s finest.

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^After the hurricane of 1901, the citizens literally shoved all the rubble down to the beach and used it as a base for a 17 foot Seawall.  They then back-filled the rest of the island behind it before rebuilding.  You can still see parts of houses, facades, columns, etc. in the rubble at the bottom. 

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^Periodically, I just need the Gulf.  And, my God, I look just like my Mother’s family, just like Mom and her brother.  Geepers….   iPhone 5

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^I love this picture.  I got to a deserted section of the Seawall and parked (my car is on Seawall Blvd. directly out of sight).  This gal whipped in directly behind me and I was at first afraid she was mad at me or something (I’d made a U-turn to do it).  No, she was just doing the same thing as me, taking a serenity break.  I climbed down onto the Jettys, she stayed up on top of the Seawall.  It was at least 10 degrees cooler where I was….

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^Messing around with Photoshop

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^Another in my “Kids, don’t try this at home” series.  I’ve been wanting this picture forever.  Very dangerous, heavy traffic on the Gulf Freeway approaching downtown (University of Houston is on left out of picture).   I was pretty impressed with myself on this one.

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^Almost home.  Second-tallest stack in the US, 5 feet shorter than the “High Five” in Dallas.  This is the intersection of Katy Freeway (IH 10) (on which I’m traveling) and Beltway 8, the Sam Houston Tollway.  My exit is directly after this interchange.

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^These were bloomed out when I got home.  As close to Cardinal and White as I am going to get, I think.

 

Yes, I left out many Galveston landmarks.  That’s the next trip.  So much to see and do, so many pics to take.  I have no talent, but I keep plugging.  Thanks to my few loyal followers for putting up with me. 

 

Finally:  One minute of serendipity: