Monday, July 27, 2009

Professor versus Policeman

Having been around a few years, I admit to having had some interaction with police officers. For the most part, they were professional and respectful.
Of course, instinctively, I’ve always tried to be deferential in dealing with cops. And why wouldn’t I? They have handcuffs, tasers, and guns; they can arrest me and put me in jail at their whim. Knowing this, do I feel a certain level of unease and even some resentment for them? Absolutely. After all, they have much power; I have little. In a court of law, in the absence of witnesses, their word would trump mine. So be it; I accept this and act accordingly.

Having said all that; I know we need these guys and gals in blue. I don’t carry a gun—bad guys do—and I know the fact that cops have them is what keeps bad guys from doing whatever whenever to the people I care about. I’ve used this metaphor before, but similarly, sheep are not fond of the shepherd dog that protects them from the wolf.

What brought on the writing of this post is that I just read
Officer Crowley’s report of his arrest of Harvard Professor Louis Gates, corroborated by Officer Figueroa. Having read it, I really hope that Gates follows through on his threat to sue Crowley, because if he does, it will come out in court that Gates is a big fat horse’s ass.

The irony is that the reason the incident took place in the first place is due to an earlier break-in attempt at Gate’s house that caused the door to malfunction when he came back from a trip overseas, which only shows that Gates SHOULD have been pleased that the Cambridge police responded to what might easily have been a repeat of the earlier break-in. Instead, Gates took on the air of “angry black man;” in this case, he played two cards: the one for race, and the “do you KNOW who I AM?” card. I don’t know which card is worse—perhaps the elitist card IS the more detestable of the two, but I am contemptuous of anyone who uses either.

Then, I see Barrack Obama on the news, the supposed mender of ALL divisions racial, the one man who SHOULD have stayed out of the fracas completely, and instead of butting out with an appropriate “no comment” he chimes in with his “two cents” at the tail end of a press conference within only a few hours of this itty-bitty incident, describing the actions of the Cambridge Police Department as stupid, because, as he “understood” it, his friend, Professor Gates, was arrested for disorderly conduct “within” his own home.

Obviously, this is a tempest in a teacup, but what it shows once again is that Obama has no business being president of the United States. He’s not only a rank amateur at this serious business of running the country, he’s an imbecilic one. Did he really forget that his constituency is no longer exclusively black people from the cop-hating part of Chicago entertaining real or imagined grievances against all police in general? It would seem that he did.

For me, Obama’s reaction smelled like the OJ verdict all over again. Remember? In a nutshell—white policemen BAD, picked-on black man GOOD. Watching Obama instinctively rally against the Cambridge cops reminded me of the nausea I felt in the pit of my stomach as I watched the scenes of black people across the country celebrate the release of that murdering savage, simply because he was “their man,” despite overwhelming evidence that he did it, since it MUST have been planted by dirty cops, and even if he WAS guilty, so what, since how many other times have innocent black men gone to jail due to the damned deceiving cops?

And now, after seeing Obama’s similar anti-white cop knee jerk reaction, is there a police officer anywhere out there—black, white or latino—who does not now believe that the boss of the nation’s chief law enforcement officer does NOT have their back—at least to the point of giving them the benefit of the doubt?

Crowley should have arrested Gates NOT for disturbing the peace, but plain and simply for being an abusive boorish blowhard. If I had been the policeman on scene I probably would not have arrested him; I would have gently handcuffed him, put him in the squad car for a few minutes to cool his ill-mannered jets, and then released him with a warning. Cops do have that kind of discretion, but I’m also just as happy that he brought the shriekingly-disgruntled cop-hating wannabe-martyr in for a full measure of inconvenient detention.

As much as some people hate the police, and do not include me in THAT number; we MUST cooperate with them in order to maintain a safe society. You’d think someone Crowley’s age, who is older EVEN than ME, would instinctively understand this. In this case, Officer Crowley, responding to a suspected larceny in progress—knowing full well that robbers routinely carry weapons—appears to have acted appropriately and reasonably. Why then would someone supposedly as learned as Professor Gates immediately respond with disrespectful verbal abuse?

Once again, is this Gates guy really the kind of person that Obama proudly counts among his best friends? Sounds like Louis Gates and Reverend Wright are co-leaders of the club of “successful bitter black men of the USA;” they certainly have the same weighty chips on their shoulders.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Runaway hamster and escaped finches

It’s been more than a month since my finch pairs produced any new nestlings. For a while, there was always a batch or two of tiny white eggs among my collection of 2 nest boxes and 5 hanging nest baskets. After the last one hatched more than a month ago though, there have no more baby birds to grace the inside of my big bird cage; and without cute little clumsy babies in there, it's just not as fun. In fact, the last hatchling of two months ago is almost grown up now. I wonder what’s going on? Although, thinking back, I DO have my suspicions.

For one thing, about three weeks ago Divine closed the cage door without fully sliding the latch closed. About an hour later we were doing some gardening together when a suddenly horrified Divine pointed behind me at the cage, exclaiming that the door was open. I hurried through the porch and breezeway and back around to the cage door. Closing it behind me I began counting birds—I was quite crestfallen learning that nine had escaped.

Escape is the wrong word since it seems that none of them really desired to be on the outside. They continued to hang around, most choosing to perch directly on top of the cage netting while chirping away at their friends, mates and offspring still on the inside. Right away I began to scheme on how to retrieve my lost children.

I felt a bit of déjà vous going back almost 40 years to the time when my family still lived in my grandma’s house where I slept downstairs in her semi-finished basement. While there we had a hamster that managed to escape from its little metal cage. This particular one was an excellent climber and soon found its way up into the drop ceiling that had been recently installed by my father. I figured that whatever trap I came up with, it was going to have to be set up there on top of the ceiling panels where my quarry had made its new home. It was unsettling, having to listen to it scratch and scrabble around up there as I lay in bed trying to sleep.

I knew it must be getting hungry. Rodents love to eat; they do so continuously and often. I deduced that hamster feed pellets would be the key to the trap. Now, what of the actual trap itself; what would it consist of? I settled on a plastic milk jug. Cutting the top off so that it was just big enough for a hamster to crawl through, I balanced the jug on its side so that most of it hovered off the edge of two thick stacked books. I put a few pellets around the opening of the jug to get the furry critter's attention and placed a much more generous amount inside the plastic jug, knowing that the weight of the pellets would help catch my wayward hamster; my plan being that their considerable weight would prevent the captured animal from being able to push the jug back over on its side (hopefully).

With one final check I stepped down off the back of the old couch after returning the ceiling panel into its position smooth with the rest of the panels. Sprawling on the old green couch I absentmindedly watched TV, determined to keep an ear sharp for the telltale sounds of a captured hamster. Nonetheless, I fell asleep. Sometime later I was startled awake by strange bumping sounds. For a second or two, forgetting about the hamster and my trap, I had no idea what it was. But then, eureka! I realized I had caught the prodigal critter and on my very first attempt. The sound was it trying to re-spring itself from the jug by pushing it back over.

Excitedly jumping back up on the couch, I exploded the panel back out of the way and popped my head through. From the inside of the now upright jug, the hamster was very nearly able to push it over on its side; but each time the weight of the pellets kept that from happening. With a thumping plop, the jug would re-right itself, even if only just barely; thus, the bumping sounds. It felt great outwitting that naughty little rascal.

"Ha! I got you!" I yelled down at it inside the jug, where it stood up on its hind legs looking up at me, its whiskers moving as it sniffed the air in my direction.

Jump forward from 1971 to 2009. Instead of a silly hamster, I have to figure out how to recapture 9 flighty little finches. Divine was so depressed and down on herself for leaving the door open that I felt bad too; I wanted to retrieve the birds mostly to make her feel better. After all, finches are cheap; it would be easier to simply buy new ones. The idea of abandoning the lost finches was not something she wanted to accept though, and she pleaded with me to try.

The obvious trap is to use a birdcage, but we had given away all the ones we had from our original bird purchases when we had rid ourselves of the larger fancy birds. I told Divine we needed another little cage if I was going to have any chance at success. She came back with a cage that afternoon and so I went to work.

Luckily the cage door slid upward to open with gravity causing it to guillotine shut when released. Perfect—if I could get a bird to go in, all I had to do was figure out how to release it and let gravity do the rest. In five minutes I had fashioned a release mechanism from a heavy piece of wire. I attached 30 feet of green nylon ribbon string to it to act as a lanyard.

Next, we placed the cage, now filled with bird seed and water, near the back of the big bird cage just around the corner from where the maid washes clothes. I instructed Divine and the maid to check it every few minutes telling them to give the ribbon a good strong yank if they saw a finch inside. Within an hour Divine burst into the room exclaiming that she’d just sprung the door on two finches at once. Over the next two days we had recovered 7 of the 9 lost finches, along with three unwanted and very frantic sparrows, which, of course, we released. Not bad. As far as the other two finches, we never saw them again.

When I started this post yesterday I had assumed that the trauma of the inadvertent escape from several weeks ago had put the finches off their reproductive cycles. Either that or all the hard rain of late has discouraged them from doing what finches do best—procreating. But, as of this afternoon I can say with all certainty that I was wrong. I just did a check of all my nest baskets and boxes and was pleased to find that two of the nests have a full load of tiny eggs. So, baby finches are on the way once again!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

My Grandma, My Time Machine

There was a time when one of my best buddies was a 70 year old woman—my grandmother. Born Winifred Kehoe in 1902, such a long time ago now, but in the early 70s, when she and I used to talk everyday before I delivered my newspapers, back then, her birth year of 1902 didn’t seem so impossibly distant.

When my dad retired from the Air Force late in 1970 we lived with my grandmother and Uncle Bill until late the following summer waiting for our new house to be complete enough for us to move in and finish it up ourselves. I started my paper route a few months before we moved to that half finished structure out on 12600 South Beyer Road, just over a mile as the crow flies from my grandma’s house in the town of Birch Run, Michigan.

It was while we still lived at grandma’s house on Oak Street that I started what became my Friday evening ritual of hand scrubbing her dining room and kitchen linoleum floors for her. I continued this practice even after we moved into our own place, because more often than not I simply stayed over at grandmas on Friday nights since my papers had to be delivered so early on Saturday mornings.

Every afternoon after school I’d be at her place waiting for my papers to get plopped off the Saginaw News delivery van; and then on many a Friday and Saturday night I’d be there as well for the same reason for the early morning weekend deliveries. That was my routine for the next four years until my senior year in 1975. With all that quality time spent together it’s no surprise that we became great friends.

It wasn’t until many years later that I realized how truly unique it was, this bond between grandmother and grandson. I was closer to her than to my mom even, and my mom is a real sweet heart. My brother and sister mentioned this when I asked if they had any memories to include, both claiming no particular connection with her, perhaps partly because I was older, but it probably had a lot more to do with me being around her so much because of my paper route. Until now, it never occurred to me; I just assumed that all of us felt a special affinity for her.

However, my brother did email a short remark of what he did recall:
“What I remember most was her perfect handwriting. And, she could really bake. Butter tarts. I was younger, of course (by 4 years), but I don't remember her talking much. I know you do, from all those paper route weekends.”

One of the reasons I bought a mini-tape recorder in 2000 and taped over 6 hours of me interviewing my dad is directly because of my grandma. Forty years ago, with all those hundreds of hours of conversation, it drives me batty that I remember almost nothing of the stories she told me about what it was like growing up just after the turn of the last century, and all the other myriad stories of her life. I wasn’t about to let that happen again. (And I believe my sister is still working on compiling our mom’s story—I sure hope so).

I think due to my military brat upbringing and exposure to so much geographical diversity I had already developed an abiding curiosity in all things historical. I would learn about something in class about WWI, or maybe about the sinking of the Titanic from my personal reading, and I would ask grandma what she recalled of those events. She was 10 when the Titanic went down and she remembered the news and her impressions of it; she was 15 when in 1917 we became embroiled in Europe’s “Great War” and she certainly had some recollections about that, and about most everything else that had happened during the course of her life.

There was more to it than that though; she talked about what life was like as the automobile took over from the horse and buggy; we discussed how long distance travel, long dominated by trains for most of her life was usurped almost overnight by planes and long distance highway driving.

Grandma was my time machine. Even back then I saw everything through an historical lens; through her I found out what it was like to be a kid during the time of Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. She remembered those guys and a host of other famed figures, which to me was fascinating stuff. She couldn't tell me too much about them specifically, but she talked about her life in the context of those times. Knowing that she was around when they were made the host of hazy characters from my reading and in the classroom seem real.

My questions were nonstop, about everything under the sun, including some really silly ones like, “Grandma, you didn’t have TV when you were a kid. Did you guys watch your radio back then or something?” I asked it as a joke, but the funny thing is the answer was yes. It didn’t matter what I asked, she answered everything the best she could; and her answers would generate even more questions, exactly like an interview. I know it wasn't always easy for her, because I made her think of some things that she hadn't considered for decades.
My sister came through just before I was going to post this with some pretty cool reminiscences written in a “stream of consciousness” style. I think this is the perfect place to insert them:

* She always fell asleep in her chair. (Just like our Uncle Bill…grin!)

* Gail & I shared a room with her for a year and when she was sleeping in bed, she had the most incredibly loud snore. (Again, just like our Uncle Bill…grin!)

* She had an awesome treadle sewing machine. I always wanted to learn how to use that. I'm not sure if she even did.

* I loved looking at her tea cup collection in that glass breakfront/curio cabinet against the kitchen wall. Mom used to tell me that some of the pieces were her grandmothers & great grandmothers. I used to imagine these old time ladies having "tea."

* She made the best chocolate cake in the world, put coffee in the frosting. Amazing. She was an incredibly devoted mother.

* When the dementia/Alzheimer’s set in (not sure if anything was really diagnosed) she hid half eaten bologna sandwiches in her dresser drawers. She also took to cutting people out of her old snapshots. Can't remember who she cut out or if it had any significance.

* She loved me to bring Jamie to see her at the nursing home when Jamie was a baby. Jamie sat so still on her lap and Grandma seemed so calm as Jamie's little fingers every so softly ran up and down the veins that stuck out on Grandma's arms.

* When she was dying and couldn't speak at all she had the most peculiar look about her eyes when she just stared at you. I think she was trying to figure out who I was. This may sound weird, but when Stacy's cat meows for attention, I swear those are Grandma's eyes looking back at

We watched lots of TV together. I still chuckle remembering a Merv Griffin talk show we watched together one afternoon on her little black and white while we sat at her kitchen table. One of Merv’s guests was Charo, at the time a very flamboyantly sexy Spanish guitarist. She actually played pretty well, but that’s not what she was known for. She did this over-the-top cuchi cuchi thing, where she shook her ample round boobs while saying “Cuchi Cuchi Cuchi.” Now, being a typical hormonally-charged young teen I thought Charo was wonderful, but Grandma was not similarly enamored. She wouldn’t turn the channel out of respect for my choice of programming, but with pursed lips she sure made me understand that Charo’s behavior was unacceptable. It was classic — a case of Victorian Age sensibilities clashing with the Age of Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll, and as far as my grandma was concerned ne’er the twain shall coexist.

Back then, from 71 to 75, while we spent so much time in each other’s company, I could not imagine her as anything other than what she was then—a stooped wispy haired old woman in her late 60s and early 70s. I had not yet seen the photos of her progression through life, first as a young girl, as a young woman, and then as a married lady passing into middle age.

I asked my mom, now a youthful 75, to share a few memories of her mom and she had this to say:
“Right now I picture her as a young graduate from High School. She found school a little hard, could have been ADD, they knew so little about that then. Anyway, her parents sent her to boarding School, St. Mary's of Monroe, so she could get more one-on-one attention. She did well there and graduated and had many wonderful memories of her years there. That picture of her as a young woman was her graduation pic. She was 20 yrs old. Also, (she made) many lifelong friends from those years. She saw those women often. When my Dad died (in 1962 at age 58) they all came over and hosted a lovely lunch for the family after the funeral.”

I’m struck with how pretty my grandmother is in that photo from 1922. Photos like that make me sad. Looking at that beautiful "young woman grandma," she has her whole life in front of her; growing old, going through the pain of life’s hardships and tragedies is the last thing on her mind.

Alas, it happens to us all; with age she lost some height from a moderate case of kyphosis in her upper spine. She had worked as a secretary for some time as a young woman, and that, according to what my mom used to claim, was the cause of the hump in grandma’s back—bad posture my mom would say. I used to think of that whenever I caught myself slouching. Whether it was true or not, it certainly worked to remind me to sit up straight over the years.

After I left for the marines in the summer of 75 she was able to only write me about a half dozen times before the letters stopped. I was saddened when our relationship pretty much ended when she became afflicted with some kind of Alzheimer-like condition. She kept a portion of her personality for a few years, but it would come and go, and basically, she was never the same. Bits and pieces of who she was gradually broke off and floated away forever. It was a slow heartbreaking process that thankfully I did not have to witness due to my service in the military.

My mom and aunts would always say things like, “She had a good day last time I visited her; it seemed like she knew who almost everyone was.” My stomach sank every time I heard something like that.

In 1979, before she was too far gone, I was able to present her with my first child, her first granddaughter. It’s always amazing to see the very young of a family meet with the very
old. The one picture I have of that event will always be a treasure to me. You can tell from the photo that grandma really enjoyed her moment with her little granddaughter — it was precious. I should have taken more photos; it was a mistake to presume that there would be other times to do so.

I was most of the way through a 60 day deployment to England in 1987 when my acting first sergeant came knocking on my barracks room door. The Red Cross had called and asked that I be allowed to go back to Michigan; it was then I learned grandma was dying. I called my mom who told me that she “sensed” that grandma wanted to see me before she passed away. Whether that was true or not I wanted it to be so and I began the long journey back across the pond. But seeing her one last time in life was not to be. By the time I got back to Dover on a C5 Galaxy I learned that she could not hang on—she was gone at age 85. Still, I was gratified to be able to be there for her funeral. It’s hard to believe she’s been gone 22 years already. She was a fine woman.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Sad Beauty

By nature I am introspective. I contend that being that way is not such a good thing, for it mostly causes sadness. Even so, I mostly embrace my tendency for reflective broodiness.
A buddy used to advise me about this, a man who also happens to be a pretty sharp psychiatrist; he would repeatedly declare, “…being sad is a choice;” and that may well be true for many sad people, but after much contemplation, when it comes to me, I think he’s wrong; because for me, there is no choice. I am what I am. That's right, I yam the Popeye of depressive tendencies.

Many of my fellow veterans who happen to suffer from the same self-indulgent pensiveness have decided to live out their lives overseas in places like this. Some, perhaps many, keep their depressive propensities “under control” by staving off the worst with generous amounts of alcohol and "female companionship."

For those of you who aren’t familiar with people like that and places like this, you might ask: Why come to places like this for that? Well, it's simple; alcohol you can do anywhere, but access to willing young beautiful ladies is certainly not something old decrepit guys with modest means have going for them back in “the first world.”

Far be it from me to judge, but nightly bar-hopping while looking for that “perfect girl” is just not for me; although admittedly, I did have my moments the first few months after I got here. Boy, that seems like a long time ago now; but, I realized indulging in such hedonistic things wasn’t doing me any good, so I stopped.

I’ve discussed it before, my being wary of trying to achieve too high a level of “happiness.” Being “overly happy” is fleeting, and dangerous; because by my way of thinking, it usually portends that something bad is going to happen. My goal then: simply trying not to be too sad, and contentment allowed only in carefully rationed dollops.

Aside from religion and spirituality, which of course are very important, many people achieve their joy and satisfaction almost solely through their children; and I too get a full measure of fulfillment from my kids. But having children has a distinct downside for me. Fact is, I worry about them all the time. My oldest just turned 30 and not only do I worry about her, but I worry about her husband and all the precious grandchildren I now have because of them. I feel that way about all of them—for my son who turns 29 this August; and for daughter number two, who turns 28 in December, as well as for her beautiful baby daughter, and when THAT granddaughter has a baby; yes, I’ll worry about that one too (if I’m still alive that is).

So, the one place I’ve learned to get my small daily “measure of pleasure” from is in the macro worlds right around nearby where I live, from the bits of transitory beauty provided by nature right outside my porch gate within my own minuscule yard.

I capture these short-lived scenes of natural beauty electronically and store them away for later, later like right now. Over the last year since living here, I have taken hundreds of photos of things around the yard that catch my eye. Sometimes it’s a new plant that magically sprouted overnight, or a flower, or an insect; it could be just about anything, even the sky. I’ve taken enchanting shots of mushrooms, the champions of the ephemeral, from all sorts of angles, mostly from close up, from a bug's eye view so to speak.
Of course, even these photos, digitized moments of the sublime, cause me unease; because they are a reminder that nothing lasts. Virtually everything in these pictures has already withered away and been composted and makes me aware me that ultimately, everything we love all ends up as compost.
...Ya know, If I could just savor it without overthinking it, life would be a heck of a lot easier for me.
There's a lot more yard nature photos from where these came from. Check 'em out when you get a chance in my flickr set called Sublime Philippine Yard Shots.

Friday, July 03, 2009

It's all about Perspective

Last week my daughter suddenly became so sick that she needed to be admitted. Two days before that she had seemed mostly okay when she was over for her weekly weekend visit along with her little sister. I had noticed a light cough and that was it; but the following Monday night her mom texted the bad news that our daughter could not eat or drink without throwing it back up. Our last communication that night was hope for improvement. By Tuesday morning however, my 8 year old daughter was in a hospital bed with an IV in her slender little arm.

The worst times for any parent are when their children get hurt or sick. For me, at that moment, I would do anything to take their place, to go through the pain and sickness for them. If you’ve never had children it’s hard to explain, the super protective feelings that come along with becoming a mom or a dad.

My darling girl was so weak that she could not even manage words. Asking how she felt and about some of her symptoms, all she did was look at me with no expression. I wanted to cry, but a parent's job is also NEVER to show fear or too much emotion. Love, strength and confidence, always show those things and in that order.

The doctor came in and I helped him by getting her to open her mouth for a throat inspection. It wasn’t red or swollen. “Must be a stomach flu or gastritis,” he opined. From my ex's texts I learned that his single visit was the last time anyone checked on her at all until the next day. I was livid. No nurse to check her IV, no one to check her pulse, or blood pressure, or IV bag, nothing.

On that note, medical care can be a mixed bag over here. If you or a loved one ends up in a medical facility, do not take it for granted that someone wearing whites is doing their job with due diligence. Stay on top of everything yourself. In other words, do not be afraid to be a pain in someone’s ass. If the situation seems to call for it, be a nurse, and doctor too for that matter, especially if no one else seems interested in acting so.

By late the next day though, all that angst and anger was forgotten and my heart filled with joy when my little girl showed definite signs of recovery. Still not willing to eat or drink much, she was able to manage a little juice and water. What a relief! I’m convinced that the contents of that IV may well have saved her tender young life. Antibiotics, fluids and sustenance, that simple combination administered from a plastic bag into a tiny vein eventually did the trick.

Antibiotics seem like such an ordinary thing these days, we certainly take them for granted; but kids used to die of simple viruses like what my girl had right up until the advent of these wonder drugs in the 1940s. It’s true that one of the reasons folks had so many children back in the day was the ugly fact that half of them were likely not to survive long enough to pull their own weight out in the fields. These days, no more fields, no more pulling your own weight, and everyone gets to live. Are we spoiled or what?

My daughter’s plight, and by extension, MY plight, got me to thinking about the availability of modern health care. Even in a country like this, where virtually no one is “covered,” at least not to the level that Mr. Obama would like us all to be, even here, most families are able to come up with the resources to save a young life from simple infections if the need arises. The reality that IS the burgeoning population of the Philippines is a testament to that. Even here, in this desperately poor third world country, almost everyone gets to live to adulthood.

On the other hand, most folks in this country cannot afford a heart by-pass, or brain surgery, or even the regimen needed to save a mangled limb (you see an inordinate number of people missing legs over here); but many families, if lucky enough, DO have “go to” family members that they can “hit up” if necessary. In other words, they have their own "mini Obama health plan" so to speak; and believe me, over the decades, I have found myself on occasion in the position of being one of those “go to” individuals. Sigh. All of us with even a little means who have married into a Fil-family have found ourselves on that proverbial hook.

A huge relief, by Saturday morning my little girl was back to normal. The afternoon before I had stopped by after my volunteer work and was gratified to be able to get her to eat a few Fruit Loops and sip some mango juice. Kids tend to bounce back from sickness quickly; by Saturday morning she was wolfing down her lunch at home as if she had never fallen ill.

Yet, chances are, 75 years ago, she might not have survived. As bad as things might seem to many of us these days, after last week, I am reminded that by and large we live in wonderful, even miraculous, times. Perspective people, it’s all about perspective.