Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Signs of the Times

Hey Merry Christmas to I and ur family :)”
Thank you the same to you but I don't know who you are.”

Merry Christmas to u both! Enjoy fam. & friends. All the best for 2014. See u next year.”
Who might you be?”

These text messages were taken directly from the screen of my wife's smart phone and are quite real. These are both outgoing and incoming texts. I'm sure they aren't the only examples of confused, wire-crossed, season's greetings bouncing around the expanding world of text messaging this joyous holiday season as traditional Christmas Cards go the way of horse-drawn carriages and gas lanterns. It's the modern way of sending Christmas cards and then forgetting to sign them.

Somebody knows our cellphone number and wants to send a Christmas greeting, but obviously their number isn't in our address book as our cellphone can't assign it to anyone we know. By not telling us their names, we are left in the ethereal dark. Why caller ID doesn't show the incoming name is curious, but it seems to be the case. If it isn't in our address book, caller's name doesn't show up. None of the messages we received were identified by caller ID, so we have no idea who called, or rather who texted. Going on-line and using reverse look-up is a waste of time unless you want to pay for every number you search as all the old free, look-up services have evaporated in our new corporate climate of pay, pay, pay.

At least we have an electronic trail, the calling telephone number, to follow back to the sender. Not quite as easy as recognizing a return address, but it is a way to contact and identify the mystery well-wisher. Unless, of course, it was a wrong number.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Rocky Mountain High - Humor


H. Ross Perot's famous sucking sound has come to pass, but it isn't what he envisioned. The neighborhood's almost empty! They started moving out yesterday and the place is just about cleaned out. There are a few of the old timers around who can't move, and a few who simply don't smoke pot, but most of our former neighbors are headed west, heading out at the break of day. Colorado will be so crowded you won't be able the buy a house with a front yard because, apparently, you can now sit there and smoke a joint legally.

Will it happen in Florida? Not as long as the liquor industry or their strange bedfellows, the religious right, or their highly paid lobbyists at any rate, have a strangle hold of the Florida legislature. Or maybe it's their relationship with the massive retirement communities that dominate God's waiting room, which, if you think about it, is really just as effective. The liquor industry having God on their side is a real oxymoron if you consider the war on alcohol that brought us the thirteen-year ban on alcohol in this country by way of the 18th Amendment way back when, because the war on alcohol was supported mainly by the religiously driven anti-saloon league.

Will recreational pot ever be legal in Florida? Not likely! Unless, of course, they figure out a way to make selling pot legal, and add the sales tax revenues to Florida's tax rolls, at the para-mutual venues. You know, the horse tracks, Jai-Lai Frontons, and the Greyhound dog racing tracks, and maybe even the ever popular Native-American gambling casinos. 

They won't come up with a painting of pot being passed around at the last supper, but they'll figure out a way to mollify the religious opponents, and lo and behold, the angels will sing.  And when they do, I bet they'll sell munchies, too! 

Maybe someday, after the earth stops spinning, my neighbors will eventually move back to the land of fun and sun. 

But, don't hold your breath. Figuratively, of course.



Sunday, December 1, 2013

Real Women - Humor

Real women clean their own fish. You know, the ones they catch themselves. Real women can pluck a chicken. And, they don't complain if they break a fingernail in the process. They can make soup, or soap, depending on how much chicken fat is left when they get done plucking the chicken, and they can shoot a chicken hawk out of the hen-house with a .22 rifle. Ah, let's see, how many other, selfish, self-serving traits can I use to create a barrier between myself and reality?

Let's see, perfect women don't cheat, lie, steal or flatulate – blow a raspberry – in bed. They don't ask to go out to dinner just because they have a need to be seen with new clothes or jewelry. In fact, they don't even want new clothes or jewelry. They would rather lounge around the bedroom, scantily dressed, with personal lubricant at hand, waiting to be tied to the bed.

Real women should be able to code HTML and update their own web site, and mine, too, while she's at it. Real women can change oil and tires on the car if needed, and be able to load the boat on the trailer single-handedly. Never should I have to interrupt watching a football game to tell her where the toilet plunger is.

Real women should be caring, sweet, rational, even-tempered, calm, and never say a foul or nasty word to anyone, especially not me. They understand the fundamentals of credit financing. Of course real women will always smell like summer fields of lavender, even after they finish mowing the lawn. No, make that charcoal smoke, you, know like what comes off the barbeque grill when you're cooking a really juicy T-bone steak. Cooking will of course be an art form real women follow in their spare time so I can entertain any of my friends, well, most of my friends, well, even just one of my friends! They aren't allowed in now, so let's see how can I change this ethereal dream-list into something that actually resembles reality.

It seems every time I log onto the Internet, I'm bombarded with lists of attributes American males must have to be considered as even semi-qualified to even associate with any American woman. I can only sit and wonder about the incredibly lucky, tanned, muscular, hairless-bodied, independently wealthy, doctorate-level college-educated men, all with marvelous heads of hair and smiles that looks like inlaid pearl, who will never be inattentive, interrupt, be late, get lost, and will never, never, talk out of turn. They will never lie, ever! They will never be aggravated, hungry or horny, always be cuddly romantic, ready to watch whatever video or movie his soul mate happens to pick, regardless of any NFL championship playoffs. He absolutely loves kittens and will never have an independent, uninvited thought. Tofu? Loves it! He will also have the uncanny ability to remember every conversation ever held in his presence verbatim, and even those he wasn't present to hear in the first place.

I realize that lacking any single one of these traits immediately casts me into the vast, bottomless cesspool of common, useless men, the ones that no American woman in her right man would associate with. Unless, of course, he rides a motorcycle and has a ponytail. In that case, American women don't need no stinkin' list.

Go figure!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The New Dime Stores

They aren't Woolworths or McCrory's. Nope, no lunch counters! In fact, none of today's reincarnated dime stores have any of the amenities of the stores I grew up with. There are no soda fountains to be found anywhere today, and certainly no stools to sit on. There are no longer any lunch counters where you can sit and have a cherry coke and a grilled cheese sandwich with a pickle. Things have changed socially as far as meals and fast food, but not the marketing concept of selling to the everyday housewife.

Today's five and dime stores are called Dollar Tree, Family Dollar Store, Dollar General, or even Big Lots, but they are still reinvented dime stores, simply renamed to account for inflation. The products they carry are a mirror image of what was ideologically sold by their predecessors; ie, common household items priced so the everyday shopper can afford them. The new, low-end retail stores have flourished everywhere in the country long after the traditional dime stores have gone the way of blacksmiths and harness shops.

The smaller stores require far less overhead than the mega-stores such as Wal*Mart or K-Mart, and can be found just about everywhere on the outskirts of just about every community in America. They don't need the constant flow of thousands of customers to show a profit. 

Dollar Tree, Inc., where everything in the store costs one dollar, reported in their 2012 Annual Statement that their 4671 retail stores brought in 7.4 billion dollars in net sales. Family Dollar Stores, Inc's, annual statement lists 9.33 billion dollars in net sales through 7442 stores. Family Dollar stores sell many products costing more than a dollar, but inexpensive goods are their staple products. Big Lots, Inc., which is also known for low prices on everything from groceries to furniture, brought in 5.4 billion through just 1574 stores.

But hold your horses, Dollar General, Inc., with 10,506 stores, brought in a whopping 16 billion dollars in net sales!

That's a little over 38 billion dollars in net sales just between those four retailers. For those who think in terms of how many dollars would that would be stacked toward the moon, it's 38 thousand millions, which would be quite a bit taller than me even if you stacked one-million dollar bills. In fact, according to ask.com (http://www.ask.com/question/how-tall-is-a-stack-of-dollar-bills ) using one-million dollar bills, the stack would be just under 13 feet high.

And they did it without selling a single grilled cheese sandwich.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Miami and the Airplanes



YC-125 Raider - AFM - 355-10 Aircraft Recognition Manual (1955)
Ever see a YC-125 Raider? Believe me, you have to be an aviation enthusiast to even know what I'm talking about. Most people will probably flip to their free eBook downloads right about here, but I got to see the rare airplane in flight, and not just one. I watched a squadron of the odd, bent wing propeller driven tri-motors as they headed slowly southwest out of Miami, one by one. It was one afternoon back in the late fifties as I stopped and watched the odd procession of the slow, noisy airplanes. I learned later Northrop only built twenty-three of the strange, fixed-gear airplane. On that odd day, I unknowingly watched the majority of the surplus airplanes as they slowly headed toward Central America and from there, who knows.

I once saw a famous World War Two P-38 Lightning land at Miami International Airport, and remember seeing countless P-51 Mustangs, B-25's, B-26s, and even Navy PBY Catalinas as they either took off or landed at Miami. The P-38 was a photo-reconnaissance model, used to map uncharted land in South America. The P-51's were mostly used as personal sports planes or as air-racers. Several of the B/A 26 invaders were used as executive aircraft. They were the precursors to today's Learjets and Gulfstreams. They were common in the fifties as jets had yet to find their way into commercial aviation.

The Miami airport terminal was located on NW 36th Street back then, between the Eastern Airlines hangars on LeJeune Road and Pan American Airway's complex near Curtiss Parkway. The current, huge Miami International terminal complex was still to be envisioned.

There were several aviation firms further along 36th Street, west of the Pan Am hangars, that converted old World War II bombers and fighters for use as personal aircraft, or for some other peculiar use such as agricultural spraying. Several larger firms like L.B. Smith did repair and service work for several Central and South American air forces. Those air forces were built mainly from American war surplus sales, so we got to see a wide variety of vintage combat or transport aircraft flying in and out that today would be on display at aviation museums. In fact, many are.

We saw one of the old combat airplanes on a daily basis one summer, and we got to see it a lot closer than most people. It was only twenty feet above us as it sped over at 160 miles an hour. If we were still in bed in the early pre-dawn hours, it would scare the living daylights out of us. A World War Two vintage, four-engine B-17 bomber was used to spray Malathion against Mediterranean Fruit Flies back in the summer of 1956. It would come over just at daybreak, and my brother and I would scramble out of the house so we could watch it as it made its return pass as it sprayed our neighborhood, and of course, us, too, as we numbly stood and watched the massive airplane roar directly overhead. The first time we watched it fly over, it clipped the very tips of the Australian pine trees that lined the canal behind our house. My mom picked up several of the clipped tops to show my dad when he got home from work.

They also used an old C-82 Boxcar, the predecessor to the C-119 to spray against the Medflies. We were sprayed by it only once as I recall. It was slower and flew just as low, but it was not nearly as impressive as the fast, incredibly loud, intimidating B-17 Flying Fortress.

We saw a massive, four engine flying boat, a Martin Mars, that was anchored one weekend just off the Rickenbacker Causeway on our way to Crandon Park. It would have been impossible to count the Lodestars and C-46s that continually flew over the house headed for Central or South America while we were growing up in West Miami. Miami was a unique place for an avid aviation-struck teenager.

I saw my first F-86 Sabre as it did a high-speed pass down the north runway at Miami International Airport during an airshow back in the fifties, and got to tour the beautiful turbo-prop Britannia as it stopped in Miami on a world tour. We regularly saw Navy Panther jets, and later the swept-winged Cougars that replaced them at Opa Locka Naval Air station.

Our evenings watching television were often interrupted for several minutes at a time as the massive, 10-engine B-36 bombers laboriously climbed out over south Florida, heading from MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa to places unknown. The house, and just about anything in it, would vibrate until the plodding, undeterred noise makers were well out over the Atlantic Ocean. 

We saw big C-124 Globemasters, known to the drivers who flew them as “Old Shaky,” as they arrived at Miami International Air Depot from Ramey Air Force Base in Puerto Rico, and the KC-97 tankers that often lined the apron at the Air Force Reserve Depot, MIAD, along with the search and rescue amphibian Albatrosses. I even saw an Albatross do a RATO takeoff from Miami, a training flight that awed everyone who saw it. RATO was Rocket Assisted Take-Off, where rockets attached to the back of the airplane were ignited to help lift the propeller-driven airplane out of rough seas. The huge smoke cloud drifted off across perimeter road, probably causing unknowing drivers to think a catastrophe of some sort had taken place. The Air Force reserve unit stationed there unit had C-119 Flying Boxcars that were a standard sight at MIAD, They were also famous for being low, slow, and very noisy.

I was fortunate enough to have been a cadet member of the Civil Air Patrol in the late fifties, and one day while visiting nearby Homestead Air Force Base, we watched as the entire Strategic Air Command Wing of B-47 jet bombers deployed to Zaragoza, Spain. We watched as bomber after bomber after bomber took off in rapid succession headed for mid-air refueling somewhere over the Atlantic. It took a solid 45 minutes to get them all off the ground. We watched a similar deployment a year or two later after the Wing had converted to the huge eight-engined B-52 bomber. Again, the massive display of airpower had to be seen to be believed. Most of us were simply awestruck.

A good friend of mine, Jim Coleman, also stood and watched. We were not just engrossed, we were enthralled; we were going to be part of the Air Force, that was our common goal. Jim, later a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, was killed in 1969 while riding in the ECM seat of a B-1 bomber that crashed at Mountain Home, Idaho. In the eight years I served active duty in the U.S. Air Force, I only flew once on an Air Force airplane.


Civil Air Patrol Honor Guard - 1961 Jr. Orange Bowl Parade, Miami, Fl
 Jim Coleman, center, Don "Dean" Mindling on right
Photo courtesy of Mrs Glen Mindling


One of our favorite family outings back in the fifties was to drive over to MacArthur Causeway, the man-made strip of highway connecting Miami to the Island city of Miami Beach, made by dredging Government Cut, and watch the Goodyear blimp. We sat on blankets on Watson Island, the first island in the causeway, and watched the Goodyear blimp as it took visitors for rides over Miami and Biscayne Bay. I still remember the name of one of the blimps; the Mayflower. There were twin-engine seaplanes, or more correctly, amphibians, that landed in the water behind us, and then taxied up on the shore of the island. They flew to and from exotic sounding places like Bimini and Freeport. For my fiftieth birthday, my wife and I flew one of Chalk's seaplanes from Watson Island to Bimini, just to spend the day and finally fly on one of the seaplanes.

Government Cut today is home to a fleet of monstrous cruise ships. There were no huge cruise ships dominating the port in the fifties. The old docks in downtown Miami simply handled cargo ships and freighters, while Pier 5 was home to the tourist boat fleet, such as the Jungle Queen that still plied the Miami River as far up as the Musa Isle Indian Village. Today, Pier 5 is just a memory and that area is a tourist Mecca called Bayside.

Later, in 1965, I shipped a Volkswagen from Antwerp, Belgium, to the P&O dock at Miami's Pier 2. The Port of Miami hadn't changed much by then, but today, the Miami Heat professional basketball team plays its home games at the American Airlines Arena just yards from where the old docks used to be. Miami's Bicentennial Park now takes up the rest of the old port.

The Goodyear blimp became quite a local sensation when it began flying at night back then, its sides blazoned with scrolling white lights that became a silent, floating billboard for Goodyear. The blimp would show up over heavily congested areas at night and everyone would stop and watch as it slowly floated overhead. It once circled the nearby Tropicaire Drive-in theater and slowly passed directly over our house on its way back toward downtown Miami. I was about fourteen years old, and foolishly ran into the house and grabbed my grandmother's emergency flashlight, one of those big, industrial types so bright that you could probably see it from the moon. [My Grandmother, Laura Mindling, was a press operator for Ford Motor Company at River Rouge and built B-24 bombers at Willow Run during the 2nd World War]  

Dean, my younger brother, and I ran out into our dark front yard, aimed the flashlight at the blimp and turned the flashlight on and off to signal dot-dot-dot dash-dash-dash dot-dot-dot. That's three short flashes, followed by three long flashes, then three more short flashes, or as it is known everywhere in the world: SOS, the international distress signal. The blimp throttled back and slowly turned back toward us. It came lower and it turned on its landing light to illuminate our front yard. I panicked and ran for the house with my younger brother right behind me. My mom, laughing so hard she could hardly stand up, walked into the center of the front yard and with a big smile, waved at the blimp. It was almost on top of us by then, it looked like it was going to land. He turned off the landing light and slowly headed back toward Miami. My mom and dad, usually with a drink in their hands, ragged me about that incident for the rest of their lives.


Miami was indeed a unique place for a teenage aviation enthusiast to grow up. Aviation was still growing up then as well.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Cold Warriors

We watched in amazement as the fireball rose behind the Headquarters building. A fully fueled F-105 with an extra 275 gallon fuel tank under each wing makes a hell of an explosion when it crashes on take-off. The only black flying officer I saw flying the Thunderchiefs at Bitburg was Capt Emeal Tipton, and it was his crash we watched that August in 1963. I couldn't see the crash from Bitburg Air Base itself, too many buildings in the way. I had just come out of Base Personnel office, but I could see the fireball over toward the Trier Highway. He didn't make it.

According to the Veterans of Foreign wars, Capt Tipton wouldn't qualify for membership even though he died in Germany: he was a cold warrior.

The many hours Captain Tipton spent on alert duty don't count for much officially, nor do the millions of countless hours of combat alert duty the rest of the service men and women, regardless of branch, who served around the world in the Cold War. Officially, according to the Congress of the United States, you weren't officially shot at, so you don't count as a real combat veteran. It doesn't matter if you served on alert duty aboard a U.S. Navy carrier in the freezing sleet of the North Atlantic, or in the sweltering heat of a closed tactical missile launch bay underground in Okinawa. It matters even less if you served your tour of duty in the ZI, Zone of the Interior, or in civilian language, the United States, regardless of what you did. You aren't counted as a war hero. It doesn't matter we kept the most ominous, powerful threat ever posed to our country from attacking us, possibly destroying the entire planet in the process. 

We won. And nobody cares.  

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Funland

One of the famous old landmarks in Miami was a drive-in theater. It was famous in later years as the only drive-in theater in Miami with air-conditioning! Really, they had flexible hoses you stuck in your vent window to cool off, or to defog the windows, depending on the level of activity inside the car. The 27th Avenue Drive-In theater was known as make-out central. With spaces for well over 500 cars, the drive-in was one of the most popular spots for submarine watchers and one-arm bandits in the northwest part of Miami. Cats from Hialeah and Miami Springs showed off their cool cars while the bunch from nearby North Miami and North Miami Beach, which, by the way, isn't on Miami Beach, did the same. Great place to go if you had a date, but if you were with a bunch of guys, looking for some action, Funland just up the road at the corner of NW 79th Street and 27th avenue, was supposed to be the place to go. That was also where the bad-asses hung out and gang rumbles had caused problems all summer long. But they had neat chicks, too, so we thought we'd see what it was all about. So, one summer night in 1960, we did just that.

Driving my dad's two-tone grey '56 Ford sedan, my brother Dean and I headed out to Westwood Lake on Miami's southwest border with the glades to pick up Jim Coleman and Wayne Horstkamp. Jim and Wayne were Civil Air Patrol cadets as were Dean and I, so we were pretty tight as friends. We were all on the squadron drill team, and had all flown together many, many times in the C-119 Flying Boxcars out of the old Air Force Reserve depot at Miami International Airport. We just loved to fly in those things, often making entire flights sitting in the cockpits. We thought we were cool.

We had all goofed off many times together, sitting at drive-ins along Bird Road, ordering as little as possible as we didn't have a lot of money. We didn't drive much either as we couldn't afford to buy gas. The car-hops always stayed away from cars filled with jerk guys, even though we were never foul mouthed or rude. We were just stupid kids having fun. One evening Horstkamp, sitting in the back seat, tried to throw a firecracker out the window at the car next to us, but the window wasn't down far enough and the lit firecracker hit the glass and dropped into his lap. It went off as he scrambled up the back of the car seat trying to get away. He didn't make it.

The night we decided to go to Funland was special. I had graduated from high school and was leaving for the Air Force soon, and we were in a reckless, adventurous mood. Jim, Wayne and I had been fishing on the Bear Cut bridge on the Rickenbacker Causeway earlier in the day, using a couple of pounds of shrimp my mom had in the freezer. We caught a few grunts and a couple of small snappers, nothing to keep, but it was fun. It was the last time I would fish for ten years or so.

The trip to distant Funland from southwest Miami was a long trip in those pre-expressway days, but this was going to be a special trip. Hey, we might meet some girls! Girls who didn't know us.

Funland was kind of a dump. More like a permanently mounted carnival than an amusement park, but they had a wild-mouse and bumper cars, even a Ferris wheel. It wasn't a big enough park to have a real roller-coaster, so the wild mouse was it. Arcades were spread around the park to give it the carnival atmosphere. The guys on dates all rode on the merry-go-round with their sweeties, eating cotton candy just like in the movies. Most of the juvenile delinquents just wandered around just looking for a fight. Wayne turned his collar up and started acting tough. We immediately reminded him he was the smallest one of us and would be the first one they jumped on if he started something. We ended up wandering around like everyone else, just watching the crowd. The crowd included some extravagantly dressed, apparently single, older women. Most of them just looked at us and smiled.

It didn't take long until shouting and fighting started on the far end of the park. A rumble was under way. We decided we weren't any kind of a match for zip-guns and switchblade knives, so we decided to leave before things got nasty. Too late. Sheriff's deputies had already set up a barricade at the entrance to the parking lot. We were stopped by several deputies and a tall, lanky older fellow in a grey suit and a white shirt and tie.

ID's were shown, names were taken, and then we were asked to take them to our car. They had several groups of boys waiting, but they were letting couples leave without stopping them. I guess we looked like trouble. Jim told Wayne they stopped us because he had his collar up. Jim was probably right, it certainly didn't help.

Just what I needed! I was supposed to report for induction in a few weeks, what if I got arrested! I hadn't done anything, but the cops weren't having any fun and they certainly didn't like us. They were downright nasty.

We walked to the old Ford and opened all four doors. The cops went through the glove box and looked under the seat.

“Open the trunk!,” the detective growled.

Obediently, I walked to the rear of the car and opened the trunk.

He reached in and grabbed the white-paper wrapped package, and I let out a grunt as I recognized what he had in his hands.

They all stopped and looked me as if I had given away the big secret.

He ripped open the package of dead, smelly, thawed out-shrimp, warm from having spent the day locked in the hot trunk of the car. He looked up at the deputy who had leaned over to see what they had found and started laughing. I told him I forgot they were there from our fishing trip.

“Get out of here!” He said, as the one cop told the others about their find. We could hear them still laughing as we quickly pulled out of the parking lot and started our long trip home.



Friday, June 28, 2013

Rain, Rain, Go Away!

Not this time! No way could I out-run the storm! We saw it behind us as we left the dock on the Jupiter Waterway and slowly headed for the Myakka River in our brand new pontoon boat. It wasn't a threat then, but it soon became a challenge.

We naively invited friends who were visiting us for the first time to join us on our maiden voyage. It was the very first time we cast off from home since bringing the new 20 foot Bennington pontoon boat home. We were to have dinner with our first-time guests, but before we ate, I convinced everyone to join us for a thirty-minute cruise to the nearby river to see the beauty of our area. I even talked one of our guests out of changing her beautiful new shoes as I convinced her all she would do is sit on the new luxurious seats and drink wine!

I glanced at the latest weather radar before asking everyone to cruise with us, and saw a small weather blip way up north, headed away, so I thought we would be fine. As we left the dock, Ilse poked me and said, “Look back! Do we need to worry?”

Dark clouds were forming on the horizon behind us, but the river ahead looked clear and bright. I thought I could go to the river and turn down stream and head toward the State Road 776 bridge which passes over the Myakka River just in case the small storm decided to head our way. Besides, radar showed it going east, away from us so we shouldn't have to worry. We have parked under bridges in the past while Florida torrential rain poured down harmlessly on either side of us. I thought if indeed the storm expanded to cover us, we would be safe under the bridge.

When we reached the river some twelve minutes later, the storm clouds covered twice as much of the northern sky behind us as when we started out. We were still in sunshine, but the ominous clouds obviously were not headed away. They were coming closer. The storm was expanding. As we left the slow speed zone of the waterway and turned into the Myakka river, I opened the throttle as far as I safely could as I was only into the second hour of the break-in period for the new Yamaha 70 horsepower outboard motor. It didn't matter. I could have run full throttle and we would not have made it. With three miles to go to the bridge, I realized I had made a bad mistake. I have made this trip for the last fifteen years in a 21 foot, deep-vee Chris Craft powered with a 200 horsepower motor. The old boat would plane easily and speeds around 35 miles an hour were a piece of cake. We would have been there in a matter of minutes. Unfortunately, I was no longer driving the fast Chris Craft. Nope, the new pontoon is a party barge, a displacement boat powered by a 70 horsepower motor. It will never plane, even if I put the 200 horsepower motor on it. After pushing as hard as possible for five minutes, I knew we wouldn't make it.  As I looked back, the entrance to the waterway was already obscured by rain. Damn! No going back now!

Rain blanketed the bend in the river as I tried in vain to get there first. Rain began to come down in sheets, teasingly leaving our small section of the river as the only dry section before all you-know-what let loose. And it did, from all sides. Our little Bimini top was absolutely no help! The seas picked up to a foot and a half, which in the Myakka River is impressive, and heavy rain pelted us as if to say, “See, smart ass!” One of my guests, water dripping from his glasses, made a supposedly humorous comment about my overall intelligence.

No argument there. This was without doubt the dumbest boating decision I have made in the 58 years I've been doing this. As we headed back I tried to keep the boat aimed so the Bimini top offered at least some protection from the wind-swept rain, but that didn't work well either. Everyone was drenched! Absolutely drenched! Pontoon boats offer absolutely no protection from the elements, and Florida summer rain storms are brutal. The only possible solution is to carry emergency wet weather gear for every one, even if it is only cheap plastic throw away rain covers, and water tight containers for the shoes. In the future, I will carry wet weather gear for everyone.

The new boat handled well, water sloshing over the bow with alarming regularity. I throttled back to minimize the effects of the rough seas, and slowly headed toward the channel markers that offered sanctuary from the torrential rain. As I turned back into the slow speed, no wake zone waterway some twenty, soaking-wet minutes later, still doing at a pretty good clip, for a pontoon boat with six adults on board, the rain began to let up. By the time we returned to our dock, the rain completely stopped, the only water spoiling the surface of the waterway was dripping off the tree leaves.

With all our guests drenched, I worried if any of them would even talk to me. After drying off, and another glass of wine, they departed to change clothes, and forty-five minutes later, they returned and we began the dinner where we left off. No harm done, except my ego, and at least one pair of water-logged shoes.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Another Old Friend


An old friend just proved an often heard adage is not quite right. It's been said the two happiest days of a boater's life are when he buys his first boat, and when he sells it. We just sold our old friend, Namasté, our 21 foot Chris Craft and we honestly say it was not a really happy day. We had many good times on the boat, and learned a lot about the west coast of Florida in the process. It wasn't always fun, though, but we will miss her. She was safe and secure in rough seas, and at home in a three foot chop as any small craft I've been in. She was dry under full throttle even though an occasional rogue wave could drench the cockpit. Namasté was at home just about anywhere on the water. When we picked her up, we thought her exquisite, esthetically perfect lines were prettier than any boat we had seen. There was one major problem, we had to rename her.

Blazoned across her mustard colored hull was the huge white lettered name “Whim Wham.” Great, just the boat you want to take your grandkids out in. We bought her from a fellow in Punta Gorda who looked like he hadn't named her. He hadn't. Really, he looked more accountant than swashbuckler. He was the second owner. The first owner probably died of VD or rampant alcoholism, but we liked the boat in spite of the name and brought her home across Charlotte Harbor towing a six foot dinghy that was included in the deal. That was luckily included in the deal, I should say, as I sat in it for an hour while I unbent an unmarked, wire crab trap by hand from around the propeller. Lesson: never venture out without a tool kit and avoid bleeding in shark infested waters. Actually, the alligators keep the sharks away in the Myakka River, but my hands were pretty well lacerated by the time we finally got underway. When we finally got her home, I tied her to a neighbor's dock while we had a boat lift and a seawall installed. The day she was lifted into place was indeed a happy day.

We took trips to Cabbage Key and through Boca Grande pass, exploring Charlotte Harbor and the Peace River without worrying about expending the 80 gallons of fuel we carried. Of course, gasoline was only a buck and a quarter a gallon back then, and we didn't have the destructive ethanol additive to worry about. Gas tanks and carburetors stayed clean and we ran just fine. As the price of gasoline crept up, our trips got shorter. And slower. But the noisy, thirsty 200 horse power Mercury Black Max outboard motor had developed another problem: it was becoming unreliable. We had to make a decision about the boat: fix the motor or replace it, or possibly even the boat. I borrowed a trailer big enough to handle our 3500 pound baby and hauled her into the yard next to the house in the spring of 2006. I rebuilt the carburetors and replaced ignition coils. I swore in frustration as love bugs got sucked into the open carburetor throats and stalled the engine. I replaced all the chrome hardware that had deteriorated from the exposure to salt water, including all the hinges and cleats, and meticulously, gently removed the name. She only came with two seats, so I installed two more in the stern. I replaced the Bimini top with a new, longer top. After cleaning and waxing the hull, I carefully applied her new name, Namasté. After six weeks of work, we relaunched her only to find the engine problem hadn't been fixed. Out she came again and this time I tore all the wiring out and rewired the entire engine. Finally she was put back in the water and she started up and ran the way she had when we brought her home, but she was as noisy as ever.

People a block away could hear her when I started her, and conversation on board, even while we were at idle, was out of the question. We actually took cotton wads for our ears with us on one trip, but they were no help. I decided the next time the motor gave us problems, it was coming off. Two years later we pulled off the Black Max and installed a rebuilt Yamaha 200 hp outboard motor. It was like night and day! We had our old boat back! Unfortunately, the price of gas soon went to 4 dollars a gallon and we found ourselves in a quandary, we couldn't afford to take her out every time we wanted. A full gas tank was worth $320! We finally had a quieter, reliable engine, but no place to go.

We continued to take her out though, sometimes with fishing friends, sometimes with guests to see if we could find Dolphins. Still, when we had more than four guests, we had to take a fold up lawn chair placed in the center at the stern. We had one poignant trip when we asked dear friends to join us for a sun-down cruise to the river. Their adult son was dying from cancer, so the trip was special for all of us. In a cruel turn of fate, his mother and father were also gone within a year.

In a memorable return trip down the Peace River from visiting the Navigator restaurant with friends from Germany, we passed under the Blue Angels as they performed for a near-by air show.  I saluted the blue F-18 as he leveled out just above the water off our starboard bow and he returned the honor with a wing waggle as he passed a few feet over head.

We will miss our old friend, but we have a new one coming next week to take her spot on the boat lift. The new boat doesn't have the beautiful, sleek lines of the old Chris Craft. Rather it looks like a utilitarian barge. Her replacement is a pontoon boat. With only a new four-stroke 70 horsepower motor, our fuel consumption should be cut in half and we will be able to carry on normal conversations at idle. It has comfortable seating for eight people. We started with a small 22 foot sail boat, then made the jump to our big power boat. The new one should fit somewhere in the middle.

Another old boating adage says power boats are going somewhere but sailboats are already there. The new boat will nicely fit both worlds. We'll call her Namasté II.  It couldn't have a better name.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Daisy




Daisy  1999 - 2013
Daisy was never an outside dog. She would only stay outside with us as long as it was cool and she could lie in shade, usually under the big live-oak tree next to the house. She would much rather lie on the living room couch in the air-conditioning. Even then she would pant. She hated the Florida heat. With her thick, white coat, she was better suited for Norway or some other Scandinavian country that really was her heritage as she appeared to be a mixed Spitz/Samoyed type. She was a rescue dog, obviously a mixed breed. Even the veterinarians weren't sure of her main breed. Our daughter, Monica, found her on a highway in Georgia during a rainstorm in early 2000. Someone simply dumped one of the sweetest dogs ever alongside the road. Probably because she was pregnant. 
 
Monica named her Daisy, and the name suited her perfectly. After taking her to a vet and getting her neutered, she became part of Monica's household, at least until we lost our dog, Sasha.

Having a pet euthanized is incredibly difficult. We lost Sasha after almost fifteen years, and it was a difficult decision to make, and even a more difficult task to actually do. Watching a loved pet die in your arms is even worse, and that is what happened to our first dog, Tippy, a Beagle who died of kidney failure. Ilse and Monica did their best to comfort him and relieve his suffering, but it was incredibly difficult for both of them as they helplessly held him while he died an agonizing death. When Sasha, reached the point of being beyond help or recovery, we decided to have our veterinarian come to our house to end our fifteen year old mixed spaniel's difficulties. We didn't want to sit in any waiting room with our beloved pet, waiting for the inevitable nurse call and our veterinarian graciously complied.

It wasn't long after we lost Sasha that Monica called and said, “I have a dog for you!” We both said, 
“No, it's too soon. We still miss Sasha and any new dog would just compete with our memory of her.”
I'll send photos,” Monica said.
Fine, but don't expect us to take her. We aren't ready.”




Daisy's first week at her new home was spent lying in the far corner of our lanai, simply staring at us. She ate without problem, and seemed to enjoy walking with us in the evening, but at night she slept in the living room with her muzzle on the low window sill. It took months before she began to show affection, but when she did, it was always on her terms. Nobody forced Daisy to do anything. Oh, she was well trained, she always followed commands, but as far as showing any kind of attachment, Daisy was a loner.

She rarely barked. She would announce anyone at the door, but that was it. We took her outside off leash after just several weeks, but we live on a waterway that runs into the Myakka River not far away, so we see alligators in the water behind the house regularly. We always checked the yard and banks before allowing her in our unfenced yard. 
 

We found out she much preferred air conditioning to the fresh air of outdoors. She began sleeping closer to us, but only when she napped during the day. She was never aggressive. She could meet any dog at any time, and she would curiously say hello, then back away. Several years after we got her, she began to show signs of lethargy and lack of energy. She was diagnosed with a kidney problem that she lived with for years, and had a chronic thyroid problem that we gave her medicine twice a day to keep under control until the end. She also had the worst case of benign tumors of any dog our vet had ever seen. He took one off her side that required over twenty-five stitches. 
 
Dad, I don't feel good...
One day while we were working in the yard, we noticed Daisy was laying under the Oak tree in a sphinx-like pose, looking down between her out-stretched paws. When we called her to come in, she looked at us, then looked down once again between her paws. Curious, we walked over to see what see was watching and were surprised to find she was protecting a baby squirrel. She would gently sniff it, then look at us as if to say “this baby needs help!” Daisy never barked in anger at anything, never once did we ever hear her growl.

None of her ailments stopped her from walking with us during the three months we camped across the eastern part of the country last year. She joined us on every trip, and walked hills and trails just like a young dog right to the very end.


Daisy on the Allegrippis Bicycle Trail, Pennsylvania, 2012
We ended up with a second dog, Taz, a Golden Retriever mix who was the opposite of Daisy in every way, but Daisy adored him and he became her pack leader. Taz is finally realizing something's wrong three days after Daisy's death, but we're not sure if he understands why. He hasn't gone looking for her that we know of, but he's a different dog. His fast, active demeanor is gone. He actually looks and acts depressed. He is finally realizing his sweetheart isn't here any more. 
 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Pithole Phyllis

Poor Pithole Phyllis can't even get her name in the paper. Her cousin, Punxsutawney Phil, grabs headlines every February 2nd down at Gobbler's Knob, but not poor Phyllis. No one calls to ask her anything. Great-great-grandpa Phineas made the mistake of picking the wrong town when he dropped off the back of the slow-moving buggy at the edge of Pithole, Pennsylvania, way back in the fall of 1865. He thought he had picked a town that had real potential. Oil wells were popping up everywhere since Colonel Drake drilled his first well over by Titusville, just a short buggy ride away. With fifty-four hotels, three churches, a railroad, the very first oil-pipeline, and even a red light district, Pithole had grown into a real city. Yep, ol' Pithole was on the map! Phineas decided to stake his claim and grow roots in this bustling metropolis.

Whoa Nelly, is this gonna be fun!” Phineas thought to himself as he waddled across Holmden Street. “We even got us a theater and a newspaper,” he mused, then scurried as fast as his four short legs would go to get out from under the flailing hoofs of the horses being ridden wildly through town. He looked back from under the safety of first wooden porch he came to.

Early the next morning Phineas waddled to the top of the highest hill to see what he could see, but all he could see were oil wells! The forests were gone. Even the cow pastures had been torn up to build big, ugly structures that looked like they would blow down in a storm. By the time Pithole had 20,000 residents just a few months later, poor Phineas and his new family were stuck deep in the woods, terrified to venture anywhere near the farmers on the outskirts of town who would shoot at them on sight, or anywhere near the smelly oil fields where they would get covered in the dark, sticky goo that just wouldn't come off. Phineas was in despair, how could he have been so wrong?

His brother, Percy, had warned him not to be so impetuous. Percy stayed in Punxsutawney, some seventy miles further south. “There are only a couple of thousand people here in our little town, and that's all we'll ever have,” Percy told Phineas. “There's no reason on earth for anybody to ever move here! We'll never be bothered with traffic and noise. Stay with us and we'll all grow old and fat together, my brother.” But Phineas would have none of it and jumped up on a passing buggy axle the first chance he had. Percy never saw Phineas again.

Percy became something of a local celebrity in Punxsutawney. He always seemed to be where ever there was a fresh crop of sweet corn, and never missed a ripe garden that was within five miles of town. Life was good in little Punxsutawney. Percy was in the process of living to a ripe old age when he was caught off-guard by a freak blizzard one day in early February while trying to make his way slowly up to Gobbler's Knob. He saw his shadow that morning and decided sunshine meant good weather. He loved lying in the sunshine, and decided the top of the Knob would be a great place to soak up the warm rays of the sun. Unfortunately, like most groundhogs, Percy just wasn't very fast, and his old age made him even slower. He was too far from his burrow when the cold sleet of a late winter storm snuck in and caught him in the middle of an open field. Percy struggled desperately, but finally exhausted, he fell still in the winter snow and froze to death. Percy's oldest son, Phil, swore they would never again get caught off guard by the weather. Every year since, on the exact anniversary of Percy's fatal journey, Phil cautiously sticks his head out of his relocated home near Gobbler's Knob and decides for all groundhogs everywhere if they get to sleep in for six more weeks.

Phineas always kept abreast of his prudent, rational brother through the fuel of all envy, gossip. The polecat family that lived down by the hollow always seemed to know everything. Phineas heard about poor Percy, but he didn't make the trip for the funeral. He was too proud to admit his brother had been right, his dreams had been just too grandiose. Phineas's family eventually suffered just like the ill-fated town. Twenty years after moving to Pithole, the town was gone, only a blur in the memory of a few. Phineas never went back to the hill.

His family endured for generations after he passed away, but just barely. Most of his offspring departed for places unknown. Only a handful of grandkids stayed in the empty, cold family burrows, devoid of laughter and mirth. Every year on the day poor Percy froze to death, the current Punxsutawney Phil gets his photo on the front page of every paper in the country. Even Brian Williams raises his eyebrows to new levels to show Phil the 6th, or 7th, maybe it's now the 8th, being held aloft for all to see. Poor Pithole Phyllis waddles back to her den and pulls the covers up. The farmers still shoot at them, and if they aren't careful, they'll get run over by one of the few cars that travel down the usually empty roads. Groundhog Day just isn't very special in Pithole. 

 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Mirror, Mirror


I look in the mirror and I see an old man's face staring at me. I wonder if he is as upset as I am about these things a doctor had to cut out of my chin. Those little stinkers weren't there last time I saw the dermatologist, just six short months ago. Or, at least they weren't visible then. They were masked by my beard, right at the chin line. The gray and dark intermixed beard colors masked a blemish that belied the unwanted presence of cancer cells. Once found, they had to to be evicted as soon as possible, sent immediately on their way to a lab for analysis. I don't want those microscopic aliens chewing on me any longer than possible. Thirty damn stitches across my side of my face. I look like I fought with Zorro and lost.

Ironically, I posted a quote by Alice Walker, 1997 Humanist of the Year, just before I had to have the surgery. She wrote, “What the mind doesn't understand, it will worship or fear.” Here's this microscopic creature that eats me alive from the inside out when its good and ready, and I can't do a thing about it. Apparently, we carry them around, incubating these adaptive little one-cell eating creatures until they have our body-map figured out, then they pop up and multiply rapidly in one of several different variations. But I'm fortunate, the ones that decided to pop up under my skin aren't the terrors they used to be. Not at least if I take them out now. Their nastier pack-brothers are still out there roaming around though, as are so many, many more of their unsavory relatives.

I don't understand them, and I don't worship them. I don't fear them, either. I don't like them, and if I knew how to stop them, I would. Wide brimmed hats are now the order of the day. I know I have to keep my head and especially my ears covered when I go out to play, along with a liberal application of chemical sun-screen. Why ask for trouble?

Anybody who still smokes is an idiot. Sucking those flesh-eaters through your lungs every chance you get might invite a few of them to pick a soft crevasse of your lungs and incubate for a few years. Try and get them out! Freedom? Freedom has nothing to do with it. Smokers are victims of good ol' American advertising. If you think cigarettes are expensive, wait until you get hit with your first prescription for chemo. You ain't seen nothin' yet!

Say, maybe we're going about this the wrong way! We should hire the advertising agencies to lure cancer cells out in the open. Given the right incentive, Madison Avenue would develop a marketing program to lure the little stinkers out into broad daylight! We might not be able to afford the advertising charges up front, but I bet given enough time, the marketing industry would figure out a way fake those nasty little guys right out of everybody's body. The cancer cells would march right out in the open to die and be happy about it. They'd think it was their right to do so. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Facebook


As a writer, I'm usually prepared to take heat for what I write. The six years I wrote a business Op-Ed column for the Charlotte Sun Herald thickened my skin considerably. I have been blistered for just about everything under the sun. Having a friend toss one of the barbs, however, is a new one. It is so frustrating when a good friend inadvertently sticks you in the butt, especially in public. My first reaction is to ask my friend, "WTF?" The smarter move, however, is to find why the failure to communicate happened in the first place. 

I know no one reads my material exactly as I write it. No one else in here with me as I type and review the thoughts that tumble out, usually faster than my fingers can find the right keys. I do my best to write exactly what I want to write, that doesn't mean whoever reads it, reads what I wrote. Not exactly, anyway. Like listeners who hear only what they want to hear, readers only read what they want to read. I often cloak my dogma in humor, and I am disappointed when the point of what I write is misunderstood. What really surprises me is when the reader responds with what they feel is an honest rebuttal to an argument I didn't make. Well, not intentionally, anyway.

I set myself up for this new problem by using Facebook. You can post photos of your friends and relatives as you wander around the globe for everyone to see. You can express your political views, as well. When you do, be prepared for rebuttal. People you once thought were friends will dump on you if they disagree with you as if you were having a conversation in the local sports bar. I've found there are “friends” on Facebook who are just plain rude. They can't resist telling you, and your family and friends, and everyone around the world, the error of your faulty thinking, and they will do so vociferously. They should stay on their own pages where they can freely post their own viewpoints, but they don't. They want to rain on your parade and they will if you let them. I don't want anyone dumping on me on my own web page, nor using my page to promote their beliefs. That's what the “unfriend” button is for, and I have used it liberally ever since the last two Presidential elections. But this posting on my Facebook page wasn't meant as an insult; it was merely an honest response to one of my blog postings I referenced on Facebook.

I'm tempted to remove the comment, but that would be at the expense of our long-time friendship. A rebuttal to the comment will have to be diplomatically crafted to prevent essentially the same reaction. On the other hand, I can't leave it as it stands as it is completely misleading to anyone who comes across it. I'll see if I can manipulate this article in some way as to convey my thoughts. Oil on the water, so to speak. But, then my friend will probably say he doesn't swim in that stuff and we'll be off yet once again..

The predicament does tend to take the fun out of writing. Well, for a while anyway. I'll be back. I just won't post anymore on Facebook. As Paul Simon famously sings in The Boxer, "A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest..."






Thursday, March 7, 2013

My Memorial Service

My Daughter, Monica, and I at the American Cemetery in Hamm, Luxembourg, in front of the grave of Gen George S. Patton

My Memorial Service


I want my memorial service to be a book sale. I want my wife, or heirs who inherit the duty of executor, to put copies of my autobiography discretely around the memorial display, preferably close to an American flag, and my old U.S. Air Force uniform, which I want hanging on a wooden hangar on the left side of the display. My book, Confessions of an Old Liberal, in a tasteful white book jacket, will have to be unsigned, unfortunately, as it hasn't been published yet. My eulogy can be the forward to the almost factual book; short, concise and in the current marketing scheme of selling books, inflated as possible. Maybe they can just read from the jacket liner.

It may be difficult to convince whichever funeral home ends up with me to fend off the clergy who will try to claim authority over my soul. Funeral homes seem to have a divine link with local religious powers, giving them an inside track to grieving family members who are then led to believe without some kind of formal religious guidance, my soul may just wander around North Port looking for a way out.

I often wondered about the overwhelming number of Christians buried in the oversea American War Cemeteries. I visit the American War Cemetery in Hamm, Luxembourg, where General George S. Patton is buried, every time my wife and I go to Germany to see family. The cemetery is located not far from the Luxembourg airport.  An occasional Star of David breaks up the symmetry of the row upon row of crosses in the somber reminder of the incredible price America paid to free Europe. The cemetery in Bastogne, Belgium, is the same way, and so is the memorial cemetery just outside Liege. Where are the atheists and the agnostics? What kind of marker did they get? Or did they just get drafted a second time?

The religious powers added “Under God” to the pledge of allegiance when I was in fourth or fifth grade, and changed the law about headstones in all the U.S. Military cemeteries about the same time. Before the early fifties, fallen U.S. service men and women were buried with round headstones with inscriptions. After the religious pressure successfully lobbied Congress, the markers were changed to Christian crosses, the Star of David, and the Crescent Star. The Wiccan Pentacle was added only after a lawsuit by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State in 2007. If you are a veteran, your survivors can choose from among different symbols offered for your old style round headstone by the Veterans Administration, now including the option for “none.” But they don't have a marker for me. My marker would be a question mark.

Even though the club obviously isn't as exclusive as it used to be, apparently there are no agnostics buried in any American military cemeteries. So up in smoke I go.
As Willie Nelson says:
You won't see no sad and teary eyes
When I get my wings and it's time to fly
Just call my friends and tell them
There's a party, come on by
So just roll me up and smoke me when I die”1
 
By the way, there will be no discounts on the book. I may be a liberal, but I'm still basically a Capitalist. Now's the time to yank on the heart strings. If the churches can do it, so can I.

George Mindling © 2013
1 "So just roll me up and smoke me when I die"  Copyright © 2012 Willie Nelson