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


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 sang 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