Sunday, July 16, 2006

Another Spine-Shivering Tale

It’s time for another spine-shivering tale from the annals of Philippine Phil.

For the most part, Americans don’t believe in ghosts. No, we tend to be skeptical about these things. Until I had my own run-in with an unexplained shadowy visitor in Japan, I’d probably still feel the same way. It took only the one experience to turn me from skeptic to believer, but I had had inklings of the unexplained long before meeting the ghost of Fortunato. I believe there is something to all this apparition stuff, although I have no idea what its true nature actually is.

Filipinos believe in spirits implicitly. They have no doubt; they simply accept them as fact, and I can see why. They have so many stories about ghostly encounters its no wonder people here believe in them unquestioningly. Ghosts come up here in conversation all the time, and I think that’s what has brought on this particular story about an evil patch of woods out behind our home in Central Southern Michigan.

My first run-in with the “unexplained” took place in the early 70s. Back then, we lived on Beyer Road, a quiet lane of asphalt just a quarter mile west of the constant hum of I-75. Our home was close to the middle of the state on the eastern side of a block of land almost exactly a mile square. Church Street formed the western side of this square from Beyer Road, the eastern side. Church Street was one of the main drags leading to the center of our town, Birch Run. Back then; only a fraction of the perimeter of this square mile of land was developed with homes and businesses. For the most part it consisted of fields of corn, beans, sugar beets and wheat, along with several large swathes of woods, the whole thing laced with drainage culverts lined with trees and thick brush.

Forming the back property line of our family’s little half acre, was a small winding stream that bisected our square mile. This ancient creek, we called "the ditch," passed through one end of a fairly large patch of woods located directly behind us, not 200 yards from our back boundary. A field stood between us and the abovementioned rectangular section of woods. This field was never planted twice with the same crop, the farmer planting anything from corn, wheat, and beans in it. ..

The first time I ever experienced “the feeling” was in this seemingly ordinary wood lot not 250 yards from the back of our house. I passed through this area -- grown thick with oak, maple and ash -- virtually everyday, walking home in the afternoons from my grandmother’s place in town. Her house was my base of operations for my paper route. It took about an hour to deliver papers after school, depending on the thickness of that day’s papers. So, after dropping off the last of my 80 to 90 newspapers, I made the two-plus-mile nightly trudge across Church Street, through the fields behind church row, over the railroad tracks and multitude of farmer’s culverts, before passing along the edges of several fields and through two wood lots back to my home.

I hoofed it through those parts almost every day for over four years. The only place I ever felt spooked was in a particular PART of a patch of woods within sight of the back windows of our two-story home. I first felt something wasn’t right with that place on a pitch-black Sunday morning. It was just past 4 a.m. and I needed to get to town to make my deliveries. Usually, on weekends, I spent Friday and Saturday nights at my grandma’s, but for some forgotten reason I didn’t that night.

From the warm bosom of our house I made my way through and over frozen snow more than a foot deep. It made for terrible footing; every step broke through the frozen top inch, while I struggled to pull my other foot out of the 9-inch deep hole it had formed. I struggled mightily with this broken-gaited walking, each exhalation of labored breath formed a cloud of thick white exhaust. I chugged toward the back of our property to the steep-banked ditch, the bottom of which was at its wintertime water level of about a foot.

My goal was to cross the 8-foot deep ditch into the farmer's field. It wasn’t quite cold enough for the slow moving ditch water to completely solidify, so I carefully struggled over its slick surface, trying to step mostly on a half-submerged fallen log. I slipped more than once, each time poking large cracking holes in the thin ice. Through each hole icy water welled up and darkened the covering layer of frozen snow. I felt a hint of dampness seep into my boots and I groaned; wet feet in the cold is not helpful.

After the perils of the ditch crossing, it was comparatively easy walking from there to the woods over the expanse of snow-crusted field. As I walked, I was glad for the still air; it was miserable enough without having an icy wind to contend with. I approached the tall leafless trees and inexplicably began to feel uneasy. Without moon and stars to see by I felt my way by memory along the edge of the field towards the spot where a huge rotten tree had flattened the ancient encircling barbed wire fence. I paused for a moment before attempting to cross into the blacker black of the winter-dormant copse of trees.

No matter the season, it always seemed like I was crossing into another world or dimension when I crossed into that section of woods. In the summer it felt hotter in there; in winter, it seemed more frigid. There were times when I walked around instead of crossing through that dark place of trees; but it cost me ten or fifteen more minutes, so usually I took the direct path through its oaks and maples. On that particular dark and frigid morning, I needed to get to town quickly. So, I took a deep breath and plunged into the blackness, my feet skittering, my mittened hands blindly reaching out to pluck at and hold away clinging dead blackberry canes, always thickly prevalent at the edge of fields and tree lots.

My efforts took me within the void of trees, their upright trunks and horizontal branches all but invisible in the engulfing blackness. I walked uncertainly towards what I knew to be the other side of the lot, a seemingly impossible distance of some 150 yards. I walked unsteadily, holding one hand out protectively in front of my face to keep from being poked and scratched by unseen branches. I can’t say it was dark in there since dark does not nearly describe how dark it truly was in those woods that morning. I might as well have had my eyes closed for all the good they were. Around me I heard the furtive commotion of creatures – it could have been fox, deer, squirrel, field mice, or owls – I had no way of knowing . I was familiar with these nighttime noises and usually it didn’t affect me, but that time it did.

From the moment I left the open field and crossed over the fallen log, I began to feel uneasiness turn into alarm, before unexpectedly crashing into full-blown panic; and I couldn’t figure out why. I was sure somebody or something was there with me, and it was NOT a friendly presence. My spine jangled with fear; I could feel the hair all over my body stand straight up from my skin. I stopped in my tracks and tried to calm down. I figured I must be doing this to myself, that all of this panic was self-induced, but was it? I had never felt anything like it before even in similar situations, so why now? I slowed down and continued to feel my way through the stand of dormant trees. It became easier to walk the further in I proceeded, the trees being larger and further apart, the undergrowth more sparse.

I gave up trying to reacquire normalcy; for some reason I knew I couldn’t do it. I continued to feel an icy presence about me, even INSIDE me, and it wasn’t being caused by the bitter cold either. It was something else, and I could not shake it. I gritted my teeth and continued to tramp determinedly through the snow, making my way through the thick stand, before gradually, as I almost reached the barbed wire hemming in the west side of the tree lot, I began to feel my normal calmness reassert itself. I shook my head, not believing how frightened I had just been. I was certain the whole thing was my own imagination working on my mind. I sought to put the whole embarrassing incident out of my mind.

Over the years, I passed through "the woods" countless times, and I’d like to say that I never experienced that sinister sensation again, but I can’t. From '71 to '75 I poked amongst its trees and found all sorts of intriguing evidence of man’s having lived and worked in its confines. I found buried trash pits with 80 and 100 year-old glass bottles along with lots of other items from America's past. I discovered running through a small meadow, long-unused irrigation furrows overgrown with grass. The meadow itself was an area unexplainably free of trees. I used to camp there, and never felt uneasy. It was always in that ONE place where I had entered the trees at the northeast corner near the giant windfall – THAT’S where the presence seemed to be centered.

A normal person would just avoid a place that caused such foreboding, but I was drawn to it. Besides, that area provided one of the most beautiful displays I’ve ever seen in the wild. Right in the middle of “the presence” spot was a depressed area where the winter snowmelt formed a shallow oval pool that would stay wet well into May. It was in that area, sprinkled with extra large oaks and maples, where the most delightful patch of bloodroot I have ever seen burst up through the leaf mold every Spring. Enhancing its appearance as a wild garden, large masses of mayapples and springbeauty added their sublime charm to the setting.

It was amazing...I’ve never seen more bloodroot in one place. Normally, in Michigan, bloodroot beds cover at most a few square feet, but in that damp open space beneath leafing maples and majestic oaks, the distinctive white flowers and orange-veined leaves covered an area as large as a small home. It was a veritable bloodroot field, and it called to me like a siren. Yet, every time I went to admire the unique loveliness of it, I FELT something unseen and unsettling. My spine tingled, and the hair on my arms and back of my neck stood up. Even during the most brilliantly lit summer's day, I was overcome with dread in that place. It was a frightening physiological and mental phenomenon that worsened the longer I lingered, and did not pass until I moved on.

Over the years, I simply came to accept that I was going to be negatively affected by that place. And then, one autumn evening, just before sundown, I passed through it yet again, perhaps for the three hundredth time, fighting off smothering panic and, as usual, never quite understanding why. I had felt “it” quite strongly that evening, and it caused me to pass through the dreaded area as quickly as I could. Heading for home, I traveled west-to-east so that as I came out of “the woods,” what little that was left of the day’s sun was blotted out by the thick stand of trees through which I’d just passed. Home was but a stroll away, along the edge of just 200 yards of a harvested cornfield, and then a short hop over the muddy stream.

Halfway to the end of the field of dead and windblown cornstalks, I shook off the last of the creepy sensation of “the woods” and halted. Something made me turn and look back at the straight line of trees marking the edge of the alarming rectangle of hardwoods. My eyes gazed from left to right, along the 100 yards of eastern tree line before coming to rest at the dreaded dark northern corner of the trees, which as a whole looked bleak and forlorn in the failing November light.

In the blackness from whence I had just come, I was shocked to see movement. I peered intently at “this something,” darkness moving within darkness. It passed from right to left, then stopped, then moved again to the right a bit. It wasn’t an animal – it didn’t move like one, and it certainly wasn’t human; no person could possibly move that smoothly and noiselessly in that nasty section of thick thorny blackberry vines.

I could feel that the moving black force had sensed that I was observing it, and in knowing, caused itself to fade from my view. The icy dreaded feeling was back in its usual spot under the back of my neck, in the general vicinity between my shoulder blades. I grinned and waved with bravado at the thing in the woods.

Before spinning on heel and heading for the warmth and light of family and hearth, I yelled defiantly: “See you tomorrow!” Then, turning away, I murmured, “…Whatever you are.”

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Things My Friend Doesn't Get . . .

One of my fellow expatriates responded to my “I don’t Get It” post with an email. Like all good opinions, I find his his very thought provoking (and substantial!) and I feel they deserve their own post. I’m not with him on everything, but I defer to his personal knowledge on much of what he observes, since this guy has done nothing but travel the world since the war in Vietnam. He taught himself Spanish and Portuguese, has lived off and-on-south of the US border for much of his life, and he has had more experiences than most could hope to have in two or three lifetimes. I have a LOT of respect for this guy. He speaks from his heart, his mind, and from his life encounters. He gave me permission to post his thoughts in my Blog, but I hope someday he will post similarly in his own.

Phil, Good post there, lots of thought-provoking items.


I agree fully. I grew up in Minnesota and saw it the same way; I never hunted deer. We lived up north by the Canadian border and every year there'd be this massive migration of Minneapolis businessmen coming our way to kill deer. And that silly ritual of tying the carcass to the fender of the car!


If I had a Blog I'd be ready to deal with this issue big time. Americans take care of our people. You remember barn raisings from the old days? Somebody's barn burns down and the next weekend every neighbor for miles around is there to help this guy put up a new one; women and kids there too to feed 'em.

Onetime when I was a kid, my dad about burned himself outworking full time and building a new house out on ourfarm. He suddenly got so sick he ended up beinghospitalized for two years. It was September and thehouse was uncovered, just the basement exposed but allthe lumber and other things inside it. Next weekend everybody we knew, and some we didn't, showed up withall their tools and put up the floor on the house so it would be a temporary roof and then tarpapered it so that it would be protected during the winter.

It's called being neighborly. We've sort of lost this in the urban setting, but it's still part of our nature.We just take care of our people. Other cultures refuse to get involved. We see somebody beating a woman or acting up, we get in there and help or call the cops. That's who we are. We are Americans and everybody around us is our responsibility.

One time in Mexico I heard a nasty fight in another apartment in our building. I had just moved in and had a phone but no phone book, had no idea how to call thecops. It was Sunday morning and I ran out to the main avenue and flagged one down, and rode back with them.When I got there my neighbors were outside the building, they told the cops the fight was over and the people had left the building. I look up and see an arm come out of the window from that apartment to open it to see what's going on. Lying fools were coveringfor the bad guys and keeping the cops at bay. The just don't get involved even if somebody's life is atstake.

I see snatchers here in the jeepneys and people just let them do their thing and don't get involved. Cops have told me that's typical because they fear retaliation. It takes courage to be involved and WE do it. They don't here. . . or in other countries.

I've tried to tell these liberals that that's the reason we are in Iraq and other places. We are Americans and we help out our neighbors. That's what Americans do. Our neighbors include other nations too, and not just our own family and "tribe." Those people who criticize us for getting involved see us as meddling but it's not meddling; it's helping our neighbors.

The first time I ever saw the Independence Day parade in Mexico, I didn't know Spanish yet. A girl fainted near me and all the locals did was form a circle around her and stare. Nobody moved! I ran and found the first aid station and motioned the guys to come with me. What is this with these cultures andtheir non-involvement? I don't get it. Why do Americans take charge and others don't?

Another time I was riding a crowded bus in Mexico City. I saw a woman nearby with her bag over her shoulder and the top open. From the mass of humanity around me I saw a hand come out and reach for the bag; I couldn't even tell where the hand came from. Others had to have seen it but did nothing. I yelled out,"Hey everybody, please watch your bags! There are thieves on this bus!" The woman then shifted and put the bag in front of her and closed it. We are a different kind of people than most folks onthis planet are. Everybody is our neighbor and we are bold enough to get involved. Liberals say it isn't any of our business. THEY just don't get it.


I fight with this too. I've been the victim too many times of Mexican abuse. I, like you, am NOT a racist, but I have to admit that some cultures do have a greater propensity to crime than others. I haven't had much interaction with blacks but generally speakingwhat I've had has been more negative than positive. I can speak very knowledgeably about Latinos though and there are a lot of really negative things to say. I tell my Filipino friends that Blacks and Latinos each compose 13% of the American population. Yet, blacks are 45% of the prison population; Hispanics are about 30%.

I have a friend in Brazil, a real live member of a communist party (we do have some interesting e-mails) and she once went on and on that this was evidence of racism in the US. I said no, it's not evidence of racism; it's that these folks are doing the crimes. Period. Another interesting tidbit: Asians are about 6% of America, but less than half of one percent are in the prisons. That tells me Asians are pretty good immigrants, have strong family cultures that keeps kids from going wrong.

Looking back to the above I see that I wasn't very structured in writing it; it's cuz I was on a rant, I'm pretty passionate about this issue. Again, you and I are not racists but refuse to be cowed by the PC defeatist liberals who want us to feel guilty about those stats. Hey, you do the crime; you do the time!That's the way it's supposed to be.


Still thinking about your last Blog. I was a poor upstate Minnesota boy, really naive, small-town type, never saw a black man until I was 16. . . and he was African and not even American. Started college in Minneapolis when I finished high school and I'm soooooo incredibly shocked at how the blacks used the mo-fo words in EVERY sentence. Then shortly after that, just 3 weeks in college I think, I joined the army.

Over the years I guess I've gotten so used to it that it no longer surprises me but I still find it disgusting. What a horrible thing to say! I wonder if this came about as a form of expressing their outrage against Whitey. Just for the shock value. But then again they do it when we're not around too.

In Spain, even the most elite and educated types continually use "coño" (vagina) in every sentence, and perhaps as often as our blacks use mo-fo. In the case of the Spanish I can sort of understand the psychology of it because they were under an oppressive catholic church until Franco died. And that's just 30 years ago. They didn't talk like that in Franco's day, I can assure you! Now they're free of the church and this is perhaps a way of sticking it to their former oppressor.

I have to say you really are good at the give and take of debating, and evidently get a lot of pleasure from it. If I were as good at it as you are I'd even consider getting into politics. I do have some strong opinions about many subjects and would love to be able to express them in the public arena. Especially this latest immigration issue . . . this one really can make me passionate. I do envy your ability to come up with immediate counter arguments and examples to support your theses.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Things I Don’t “Get.”

Lots of people do and say lots of things that others don’t understand. I’m sure I do things or have beliefs that others can’t fathom. Follows is a list of stuff I’ve seen, or heard that makes no sense to me, along with a short, or sometimes not so short reason why “I don’t get it.”


What a puzzle, why people voluntarily destroy their health doing this. I tried smoking twice during my life, once as a 13 year old, and then again for a longer period as an adult. Neither experience was pleasant.

As a youngster, I snuck some cigs from my Uncle Bill’s open pack left sitting on my grandma’s coffee table. Perhaps it was coincidence, but less than a day later I came down with a horrible respiratory infection that put me flat on my back for three days.

Sixteen years later I became a cigarette “bum.” I “bummed” smokes from my smoker pals as we socialized. Smokers love having smoker company, so there was never a problem getting another cancer stick. This phase lasted all of six months. During that time, I woke up every morning with a nasty taste in my mouth; but when cancerous looking leech-like white polyps began forming on the roof of my mouth, I took that as a sign that I was doing something imbecilic and quit puffing once and for all.

Now, I work with older guys, EVEN older than me, who have smoked for decades, and I see first hand what being a “cool” smoker has done to them. They have destroyed the look of their skin, their lungs are filled with black goo, and most are sick much of the time. Their hair and clothes reek of it and they are definitely NOT cool. Even the guys that managed to quit this nasty habit never really know if it will catch up to them someday, regardless of their finally having “gotten smart.”

Nope, I don’t get smoking. I shake my head at the tragedy of it every time I see a young kid trying to be “cool,” defiantly sporting a lit cigarette between his fingers.


This fad used to be “out there,” something people on the fringe of society did. Like lots of fads, this one has become overdone. There is some of it here in this country, but it’s the Western world where it has become mainstream. I admit, back in the early 80’s I got an earlobe pierced, but once the Air Force banned it, I shrugged and forgot about it.

Think; why did I do it? I suppose I wanted to be “cool.” (There’s that stupid reason again!) I look back now and smile at that version of myself, so willing to jump on the next bandwagon; and me, always so proud of my individuality. How could I have thought so, when I was merely doing what was popular? There’s nothing individual in that.

My little earring of 20 years ago is unremarkable compared to what people are willing to pierce these days. I could see it if it did something to enhance their look, but it just looks creepy to me. Nowadays, virtually every sexual organ is pierced; the entire face, and those areas not pierced are tattooed.


My father has a faded tattoo, I think of an eagle, on his arm. He never professed to be proud of it, and used to wish out loud that he didn’t have it. I don’t know if he really meant it, or if he was just trying to impress on us kids that WE shouldn’t want one.

Personally, I’ve never seen the attraction. When I see others with them I look at their “body art” as more of a distraction than as something to marvel over. The human body is already perfect in its natural state; why plaster it with garishness?

Look at me! That’s what a person with tattoos calls out. There’s a kid at school, maybe 19 years old; he has an unsavory, mostly black and white image of a skeletal figure and skull covering most of his upper arm. He’s obviously seeking attention and making a statement about himself. What is it, do you think, he’s trying to say? In ten years, will he want to say the same thing? If he “gets” it now, I doubt very much if he’ll “get” it then.


I have nothing against this activity in its pure state, that is, man killing for food. I shake my head whenever I hear it termed as a sport. There’s nothing sport-like about it. Like any killing, it’s ugly. Even though we have to eat, taking precious life is repulsive, for me, that’s all there is to it.

In the 70’s I watched an episode of “Wide World of Sports” about hunting bighorn sheep. A guide and a well-known sports figure “stalked” one of these elusive ovine mountain “athletes,” looking through high-powered scopes mounted on even higher-powered rifles. They glowingly described how beautiful was their quarry, scampering and bounding over the impossibly steep terrain. Then, the football player guest hunter pulled the trigger and the sheep fell in an ugly heap down the mountainside. What was once beautiful was now a meaningless bag of sheep guts and curving horns. I felt ashamed.

Ted Nugent says we have to eat, and hunting is man’s natural and God-given right to express his need for bloodlust and red meat. The truth is hardly anyone anywhere anymore needs to hunt. People hunt for all kinds of reasons, but doing it for food is NOT why MOST do it. It’s much cheaper to buy your meat in a supermarket.

As a boy living within sight of I-95 in central Lower Michigan, I used to watch thousands of cars head north to the “killing fields” every Friday of deer season. Then, Sunday nights they streamed back south. These brave huntsmen swilled tons of beer while “harvesting” hundreds of deer, AND a few fellow humans caught in the crossfire, while spending hundreds of dollars per deer doing so. Ask them why and they tell you to “enjoy” nature.

I always chuckle when I hear that silly answer. I used to spend MOST of my days year-round in the woods and fields around my home, EXCEPT during hunting season. The so-called hunter/naturists just made it too dangerous for me to go out. I don’t get how putting a bullet through an animal in the wild equates to “enjoying nature.”

By comparison, I TRULY “enjoyed” nature in my traipsing; I saw all manner of birds and animals in their natural setting, and I never slaughtered a single one of them. Do I eat and enjoy meat? Yep. Would I hunt IF I had to? Yep. Will I ever have to? Probably not. In other words: I don’t get it!


I associate this term with the catchwords “appeasement” and “moral equivalency,” phraseology all the rage these days among the smug progressives in our midst. I understand that nothing is as simple as it seems, that the people claiming U.S. “over-involvement” in the world and for disengagement would be willing to fight if THEY THOUGHT the country’s existence was truly in danger, but would they? Perhaps some, but many I suspect from their demagoguery think nothing is worth a fight, especially if it has to do with maintaining what they see as the “evil” United States. Modern pacifists think that our destruction is exactly what we deserve, and I certainly DON’T get that!

People like Cindy Sheehan, Dennis Kucinich, Howard Dean, and most of the population of San Francisco really believe that the USA is no better than any of the evilest of all tyrannies out there, maybe worse. I’ve heard it said, “Who are we to tell North Korea and Iran that they cannot have nuclear weapons, when we are the only ones to ever use one against people.” That’s nothing but an example of the “moral equivalency” argument so in vogue these days. Anyone actually believing such a thing is completely out of touch with reality.

Today, modern pacifism is couched in arguments like, “Well, I was all for going into Afghanistan, but all the rest of Bush’s exploits do nothing but distract us from the REAL war on terror, and besides, he’s just creating more terrorists.”

It mystifies me that people really think that if we keep our heads down, and don’t go after these pitiless Islamo-terrorists/anarchists that they will just leave us alone. So, as these folks say self-righteously, we merely reap what we sew. In other words, THEY SAY we suffer the consequences of doing things such as continuing to support Israel, or having a forwardly positioned proactive military, or by espousing democracy and freedom for all nations, and by trying to prevent rogue states from acquiring nukes. Sounds like a new brand of isolationism to me. Perhaps they would prefer we act spineless like the new Spanish administration; or maybe we should copy the cynical and self-interested behavior of the Russians and Chinese?

The truth is we’ve done nothing to deserve this hatred, and to unilaterally declare our national “guilt” does nothing but encourage more attacks. We fight or we die; it’s that simple. Our enemies do not limit their presence to Afghanistan; they are where they are. If they raise their ugly heads and bare fangs, we have a right to hammer them down. I really don’t get any other way.


Until a few years ago I never understood the emotion felt by both sides of this divisive issue. Even as a Catholic it didn’t cause me any particular consternation. After becoming a father and living in the world for a while, I find myself squarely against it. It’s strange that humanist liberals would be so “for” this inhumane procedure.

I’ve learned that human beings start to look very human very early in gestation, and the “quickening” of a baby in utero happens quite soon as well. Yet, just because this little human is unseen, progressives and feminists delude themselves into thinking that stabbing it, dousing it with harsh chemicals, and scooping it out piece-by-piece is the “humane” thing to do, and for all manner of fuzzy rationale.

Some of the excuses to kill a fetus: 1) the mother is too young, therefore, both the mom and the fetus is better off with the “ending” of the embryo. 2) There are too many of us in the world, so aren’t we all better off with one less “unwanted” child? 3) I’m not ready to have a child; I would make a terrible mother. 4) It’s MY body, and anything in it is MY business.

Is it just me, or do all those sound pretty weak and selfish, not to mention bordering on immoral? How do people who defend a murdering rapist against the death penalty, rationalize the destruction of an innocent little human? I don’t get it.


This subject enrages me, especially living here in the land of the litterbug. Throwing trash on the ground has always just seemed wrong to me, even as a kid I thought so. I don’t understand how people can stand around in refuse and continue as if it doesn’t exist. There is a police station near here, just inside one of the gates going into the old Clark Air Base, now called the Clark Development Corporation. The station is home to at least a half-dozen or more cops and it is always seedy with trash. No one bothers to pick it up and obviously, no one in charge seems to think it’s a problem. I don’t understand why they don’t get it.

Littering happens everywhere, all over the world. When I see it, I think about the person who tossed it there. Do they think it will just mysteriously disappear from view once it leaves their hand? I suspect they don’t think at all. No, they are just lazy and inconsiderate. I don’t get how anyone can be like that. The ENTIRE world has the potential to be a garden; why make it ugly if it doesn’t have to be?


Actually, this one I do get. I have to fight against feeling it all the time. I do this because I know it is in all of us to hate, based on appearance, based on experience, and based on what we’ve been taught. I was raised that all men are God’s children. I never heard the “n” word until I heard black people use it at school. I grew up in the 60’s during what I call “the backlash,” when black people began to hate whites “back” in a more obvious and physical way.

Two wrongs don’t make a right, but it sure happens all the time, doesn’t it? The only beatings I ever took as a kid were from other black kids that I did not know and had never even seen before. They hated me ONLY because I was white and I was there.

I remember clearly the first time I was exposed to the mindless hatred of racism. I was eight years old and playing with a bunch of other kids on a sandy playground on an overseas American air base. Out of the seven or eight kids there, only two or three of us were white, the rest were Asian, Latino and black. One of the black boys fell from the top of the slide and landed hard on his back in the sand.

The wind was knocked out of him, and when he got it back he screamed like the world was ending. Out of curiosity and concern we gathered around him. Suddenly, my head snapped back and I felt horrible pain in my scalp as I was tossed violently backward onto my butt. The boy’s mother had heard him screaming and came running. She had seen my little towhead and her racial baggage caused her to rip me back and away from her precious progeny. I heard her scream, “You piece of white shit, get the f**k away from my boy!” I didn’t get it then, but she and others like her made sure I get it now.


This is a lifestyle, a choice many young people now aspire to. Some go part way by talking the Ebonics of the street, or wearing the big clothes; while others go the whole nine yards, to include the violence and sex so prevalent in gangster videos.

This sub-society has spawned from a style of rap music that I REALLY don’t get, called gangster rap. I used to enjoy rap, back when it had melody, when it was still something I could dance to. Now it has digressed into something I no longer recognize. It is the syncopated angry voice of the angry Black and Chicano mean streets, now emulated by suburban white kids; and THAT, I TRULY don’t get.

I’m sure many would tell me that my not “getting it” merely points out that I am middle-aged and thus a generation gap victim. I don’t think so, because I “get” other modern forms of music. It just doesn’t sink in why such an antisocial subculture would get so much “play” and seeming respect. Could it be . . . . money?

From what I’ve seen, “gangster” is about “being hard;” it’s about “bling;” it’s about disrespect for women; it’s about disrespect for each other and for authority; it’s about wanton self-indulgent materialism. Gangster is about being uncivil and mean to one another; you see an example of it every time you watch American sports and watch an end zone dance or a spike of the ball. They call it “in your face,” or just “FACE!” In other words, the culture of gangster is about the very worst our society has to offer. If I was a foreigner and had to find hideous fault with the USA, THIS American waste product is what I would point to.


By this, I’m mostly talking about Islamo-fascism. It’s THE most dangerous hatred out there, that stemming from religious fanatics. There is almost no way to battle it. Islamic mullahs are at this very moment preaching the “beauty” of hate and war against non-Muslims based on a skewed interpretation of their religious doctrine.

Many of the major religions have gone through extremist periods. Christianity had its unseemly time when self-seeking men used it to their benefit at the expense of innocents. Knowing that history contains other examples of religious radicalism doesn’t make it any easier for me to fathom.

In fact, I have a hard time grasping the concepts being ladeled into the brains of the terrorists doing so much harm in the world today. It makes me wonder if its true that what they do actually stems from hatred of all things Western, or is it really done for purely selfish reasons, such as the chance to sleep with 72 virgins. That anyone could swallow that load of malarkey seems completely unlikely and pathetic. So, they are killing innocent people for the chance of unlimited sex in paradise? Can’t we just find these people some virgins and get them to stop?


I’ve written about this before. I have used it, and sometimes I slip and still do use an inappropriate word or two; but I strive not to. One of my acquaintances is an old American halfway to 90 from 80, and he is as profane a man as any I have ever had to suffer listening to. He uses the “f” word as noun, pronoun, adverb, adjective and verb. He does this seemingly without thought, no matter the venue. His speech is wretched, with a vocabulary stunted and deformed. I would hope that a man that old has become wizened over the years; instead, in his case, the passage of time seems to have shrunk him intellectually. I think if he actually heard himself, HE just might get it. But no, there’s that “old dogs and new tricks” thing to contend with.


The world is filled with people who don’t care. They don’t care about the miserable condition of most of their fellow men; they don’t care about the state of the earth beneath their feet; and they could not care less about the breathability of the air passing through their lungs. That this could be so is the REAL shame of the world. I don’t understand how so many can feel so little; how so many DON’T get it. Doesn’t it makes sense that if everyone cared about things that matter – about each other – that there would be no need for a heaven, because we could create it here. Get it?

Friday, July 07, 2006

To Lasik or Not? That WAS the Question.

It’s been more than a year since I had Lasik surgery done on my peepers. I’d been considering having it done for years while I was still on active duty in the States, but it took my retirement and living here in the Philippines to finally put me over the edge.

A workmate’s wife underwent the procedure in New Jersey, and from the start I followed her progress with great interest. I wasn’t impressed. They found a cut-rate promotional offer – I think for less than a grand – and it seems they got what they paid for. One eye turned out okay, but the other eye did not. The vision in the unfortunate eye suffered from a shimmer or a halo effect, and it was severe enough that she had to wear a contact lens on it to read. She went in several times for follow-up procedures and treatments, but nothing helped. The purpose of the operation is to make it EASIER to see, NOT to make it more complicated. I felt terrible for her, and worse, HER experience scared me away from Lasik, for the time being anyway.

Not more than a year after I started living in the Philippines I started looking into Lasik again seriously, primarily because of my love of water sports, specifically snorkeling. My vision was so poor that swimming always used to be a mostly sightless experience. Unless a fish happened to swim directly in front of my face, all I was going to see of it was a flash and a blur. I had tried to use contacts along with a snug fitting mask, but usually, no matter how careful, I’d end up washing out a lens. It was frustrating.

After a lifetime of wearing corrective lenses I was tired of being, for all intents and purposes, blind. My visual acuity was 20/400, which means I could see at 20 feet what most people could see at 400. I could not drive or even safely walk around outside without my specs.

In fact, until I started wearing contacts in 1987, I never really knew what I actually looked like. It seems strange to say, but a thin length of plastic or metal framework wrapped around the front of your face, encircling your eyes, changes your look; it causes an entirely different aspect. Consider this – an imposing "tough" guy walks toward you with a neutral expression; some of us might feel uncomfortable with this fellow approaching, even if he’s completely benign. Now, put a pair of wire-rimmed glasses on his face, and now perhaps, in your mind, he goes from a possible threat to just another innocuous human being on the street. Appearance drives perception.

When I first got here, I spent some time relaxing around the pools of several of the local tourist hotels. I’d met several fellows who had come here specifically to have Lasik surgery – well anyway, MOSTLY for that. To a man, they raved about it, how fantastic it felt to be spectacle free. None had a bad experience; all, even after only a day or so after going under the laser, had perfect sight. They inspired me; like them, I wanted to get rid of MY glasses and contacts, and SEE, as barefaced as a baby!

My Internet research took me to Makati Eye Laser Center. I sent them an email asking about cost, credit cards, appointments and location. Their response convinced me to go in and get the exam. Two days after sending my initial inquiry, I was in their waiting room. I took a battery of eye tests designed to see if I was a candidate for the procedure. Was my cornea thick enough to shape down, how bad was my condition, was it correctable…stuff like that. The result, I was set to come back in three days for the full Monty. I was taking the plunge.

On the big day, I reported in and was shown into the operation anteroom. An assistant put numbing drops in my eyes, after which I kicked back in an overstuffed easy chair. I pulled the lever back to the full recline position, and proceeded to wait my turn. I zoned out on the soft cool leather, my legs all the way out and my head fully back. It was so comfortable I fell asleep. My wife had asked me in the waiting room if I wasn’t scared. What a question to ask someone huh? I didn’t care, I’m used to her . . . Once my mind is made up about something like this it’s never been my nature to question or to have second thoughts. I told her, no; I wasn’t the least bit concerned. I KNEW it would turn out just fine; why worry about it?

Aroused from my siesta, I was invited into the laser room. The doctor greeted me, and an unusual fellow he is, size-wise anyway, for a local. He’s a BIG boy, fairly tall and VERY “stout.” None of that made a difference though, because once I was in the chair with my head strapped tightly to prevent motion, I could no longer see him. For me, the good doctor became simply a voice, a soothing and self-assured one.

In the prologue of my decision-making process, one of the eye center’s young ophthalmologists had explained to me the wonders of the machine that was about to carve the surface of my eyeball. It was practically brand new, having been delivered to Manila from the U.S. just two months earlier. This advanced model’s computer “brain” would use the colored portion of my eye, the iris, as a lock-in reference. They had already captured both iris' image to memory, and the machine would follow any unintended movement of my eyes perfectly as it vaporized a precise layer off each cornea, in turn.

The older machine used the shape of the pupil for lock on, but evidently the pupil’s shape doesn’t provide as good a reference as the much more complicated iris. Of course, how am I to know what really goes on? Like most people, I just trust and let it happen. I can research it all I want, but in the end, when it comes to medical procedures of any kind, I simply take a leap of faith and let the doctor slice away.

After my head was made completely immobile in the full horizontal position, the doctor started talking to me like an air traffic controller calling a baseball game. He did a wonderful play-by-play, explaining everything he was going to do before he did it, and then describing what he was doing while doing so. He taped my lower and upper eyelids so that my eyes were stuck in the wide-open position, a very weird feeling.

A device was placed over my entrapped right eye and the doctor centered it over my pupil. He told me to keep my eye as still as I possibly could. There was a bright orange point of light for me to stare at and to concentrate on for a reference point. I relaxed and did exactly as I was told.

The weirdest part of the procedure happened next – he put a suction cup directly over my pupil. Thank goodness it was numb, otherwise I’m sure it would have stung like crazy. The purpose? To hold everything still while the laser cut a flap in the outer lens to gain access to the cornea below. It took no time at all. The doc remarked how perfect the flap looked as he laid it over, and then got the exposed surface ready for the laser to do its thing.

He explained that the program called for just over 30 seconds to burn away the necessary layer of cornea. Calmly, as always, he asked me to concentrate on the light, to keep my eyes as still as I could. He counted down and started the laser. I forced myself to relax and let the laser do its thing. It hummed a little and I think it sizzled some, the doctor continually spoke to me, always reassuring and descriptive. I felt complete confidence in both him and his machine as he counted down the seconds.

When the first eye was complete, he smoothed the flap back nicely into place with a brush-like instrument, and of course, detailed how perfect it looked. Then, we repeated the whole process again with the left eye. From start to finish, I was in and out of the chair in about 20 minutes, maybe less. A shielding blindfold was placed over both my eyes, and I kept them closed and still under it as the assistant led me back out to the anteroom. Once again, I fell asleep on the recliner, waking up only after they told me it was okay to take off.

For the next few days, I took it easy on my baby blues, well I was supposed to anyway. In reality, I did nothing of the sort. I was on the computer, watched TV, and rode my scooter. I did wear protective glasses all the time though, to keep the flaps from being disturbed by chance while they healed.

I went back the next day for a postoperative exam and the doctor was amazed. I felt no irritation, dryness, pain, nothing; it all felt completely normal, EXCEPT that I could now see without glasses. He checked my new vision and I was 20/15. They had overcorrected me; now I could see at 20 feet what most people could see at 15, quite a change from 20/400!

The only negative consequence: now I need reading glasses. No problem, they are just 1.5 in strength, and I have about 6 pair of lightweight plastic ones that go for about $4 a pair. That’s a far cry from the $200 I used to pay for my old super costly wire rimmed eyeglasses.

Even after a year, when I awake, out of habit, I'll grab for my nonexistent glasses where I used to keep them just under the edge of the bed on the floor. Or, I’ll be watching TV and instinctively push my “phantom specs” back up the bridge of my nose. It's funny, because after wearing them for most of my life, I’m still amazed at my “new look;” in my mind’s eye, I still see myself as I was before, wearing glasses. To me, my face looks kind of naked without them.

Just the same, how wonderful to wake up now and see crystal clear everything in the room. It’s great to be able to put my head down in my arms and not have to take my glasses off first. And unless you’ve worn glasses, you don’t know how annoying it is to have to keep taking them off to wipe sweat and dust off the lenses.

There’s no doubt that having to wear glasses is a total pain. I remember first reading about the Russians experimenting with corrective eye surgery and thinking, ‘yeah right; no way!’ But then continuing hopefully, ‘wouldn’t that be cool though?’

For just $1400 my life changed; that’s all I paid for the perfect vision I now enjoy, not to mention the wondrous freedom from the tyranny of wearing and caring for my glasses. I used to have nightmares about losing or breaking them, and I’d always carry a spare just in case.

And then there is the water: I was allowed to swim after 30 days; on the 31st day I was at the beach and snorkeling. What a treat! Now that I’ve had it done, I don’t know how I ever managed with my old eyes. If I had to do it again, I would, and for three times what I paid.

It is amazing how quickly we accept miracles, and it’s kind of pathetic how soon we start to forget how things USED to be BEFORE the miracle. When I think about it, I feel like a miserable ingrate, for slowly but surely, I am beginning to take all this for granted; and I didn’t realize it, UNTIL I started writing this post about my Lasik experience. Well, it IS a miracle, a miracle of science; it reminds me that we live in wondrous times. Now, if we could just fix this terrorist thing... Unfortunately, it's going to take more than some Lasik surgery to get THESE sickos to see the light!