Shut Up and Rake

And there you have it California.  President Johnny Pontiac blew in like a reverse Santa Ana wind from the east and pronounced the solution to your problem.  Rake the forest. Works for Finland, right?

Well not exactly.  It seems as though there are some differences between Johnny Pontiac’s advice and facts, once again.  It seems that the year round climate in Finland is about 60 percent wetter than that of California. Not to mention a large portion is covered in snow 4 or 5 months of the year, has more rain than California and many other factors which have nothing to do with raking.

But facts, truth and other sticking points that many of us contend with while raising children, conducting business with integrity and going about our daily  lives are of no concern for President Johnny Pontiac.

The main concern for President Pontiac is optics. How does it look?  Will the thing that I did or say cause me to become the story and obscure the suffering of others?  It always the same script and the only thing that varies are who is getting attacked by President Pontiac.  And what ever their suffering, it’s nothing in comparison to President Johnny and the wrong done to him or his family.

A caravan of folks walking up from Guatemala, walking a couple of thousand miles has no suffering in comparison to the persecution felt by Ivanka for ignoring government e-mail guidelines.  The thousands of deaths attributable to the hurricane in Puerto Rico are nothing compared to the insults hurled at the paper towel point guard that flew into San Juan for a couple of hours never to be seen again.

And so it goes.  President Pontiac thrives off of the challenge issued by Irving Berlin for the 1946 Broadway musical “Annie Get Your Gun”.  The line repeated over and over in that song “I can do anything you can do better” is the mantra for President Johnny.

President Johnny can do it better than you, he can insult louder, harder and more hateful than you, and he can be injured more grieveously than people with no electricity, food, water, homes or who have died due to inflated or made up death tolls.

He was doing it long before he got off that escalator and came into our lives on a non-stop basis.  It’s as if President Johnny is like some sort of televangelist that has control of our TV’s, our phones, laptops and computers.  He pops up at will with a new crisis justifying his need for a new private jet.

We can be hopeful that some combination of scandal, indictments or charismic opposition candidate takes Ole Johnny down in 2020.  In the mean time we should all follow his advice and just shut up and rake.

Johnny Pontiac

I just can’t seem to make up my mind these days.  Since my recent unpleasantness on Groundhog Day,  I thought that by now I would have a potential NY Times Best Seller at the printer soon to be ready for Christmas release.  As visions of sugarplum fairies, autograph parties and one hour appearances on C-Span at 3 am danced through my head there was a mid-term election.

I’ve sat here at my keyboard staring at the screen watching the backspace key furiously at work reinterpreting what appears on the screen.  I’m not sure if my problem is a direct result of my recent unpleasantness, the election or the fact that I have spent way too much time on Twitter.  Honestly, I belive its the latter.  It was my intent to write about the former but cardiac hunor is just so dark while Trump humor is so much lighter and happier, right?

I’ve tried, I really have.  I started writing a few weeks ago seeking the answer to the question:  “What if Christopher Hitchens had been at the bottom of the escalator in Trump Tower that ominous day in June of 2015?” But I soon found myself entrapped in Hitchens razor which isn’t really Hitchens’ but nonetheless states that what is asserted without reason can be dismissed wihtout reason.  My only conclusion after several days of thinking about it was that there really is no reason for Donald Trump to exist, so I trashed that one.

Last week I went aligator wrestling with the phrase “Body of Work”.  Once again politics and Twitter dominated my thought process and totally wrecked my writing abilities.  I didn’t see this crash coming.  I thought I would transition from politics and “don’t look at my 50 votes to abolish healthcare” to Heather Densch and the NCAA Bowl Selection mess trying to justify including Ohio State in the College football playoffs again.  Somewhere I thought that I would put a bow on it about 1,800 words down the page. Wrong, another crash and burn.

I think the 300 lb gorilla in the room is Donald Trump.  I don’t just consider him to be a public nuisance, which he is, but the man knows no bounds.  He is even more dominant in American Society than he realizes or he could hope to be.  I curse his very existence and not because I think he is truly evil.  Nope, he knows what he’s doing, well for the most part.

I mean he went to Paris and holed up in his hotel or the Ambassador’s residence and ditched his appearance at an American cemetary commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.  Which incidentally was about the time the phrase “the war to end all wars” originated.

This phrase was popularized by H.G.Wells and was the title of his book “The War That Will End War” released as a series of articles starting 1914.  Most know Wells as the author of “War of the Worlds” published in 1898 and popularized that Sunday night in 1938 when a young Orson Welles captured a nation via the radio airwaves.

So then Trump leaves Paris early to fly back to Washington presumably in time for Veterans Day.  Well by 10:00 AM the White House had announced there wouldbe no Presidential events for the day.  No wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  No parade with nuclear weapons, nothing but Executive time.  The man don’t show up and dominates the headlines for doing not one damn thing.

And you wonder why I’m pissed at him.  He reminds me of this guy in the sixth grade named Johnny.  Johnny had a second shift job and drove his Pontiac to school, when he bothered to show up.  That guy did nothing.  Except pushups, he did pushups in the back of the class when he was bored.  Then he’d get up and comb his Vitalis soaked hair in the best Arthur Fonzarelli style.  I need to point out that Happy Days and the Fonz were still about 10 years from coming into our living rooms.

I think I’m going to start calling Trump President Johnny Pontiac.  Maybe then I can put up with his arrogance, constant intrusion onto my television and news feed on my phone.  I’m not going to put down my phone for anyone, not even my cardiologist and I do like him.  I probably need to stop using Twitter because the sub 300 character count is definitely killing my writing style.

But now, I have a new and refreshing perspective.  I’m no longer plagued by the ever intrusive orange headed lout from Queens.  Close your eyes and imagine a new image.  A guy with dark slicked back hair combed into a greasy ducktail wearing a tight white cotton t-shirt, tight jeans, white socks, black lace up shoes and a shiny black leather jacket.

President Johnny Pontiac

Adapting to the fact that I’m no longer Superman, hell I really ain’t Clark Kent either.

Well here I am, the day after my 64th birthday just feeling all mere mortal wondering what happened to my invincibility?  I no longer have the ability to leap over tall buildings in a single bound and I sure as hell can’t out run a speeding bullet.  But I am able to sit here and type and my brain works pretty well, still.

My typing skills seem to have deteriorated and the backspace key more frequently serves as my early warning spell check than in the past.  At first I though it was this laptop but then I have a new company computer at work with a “Chiclet” keyboard.  They both have the same defective keys on the left side of the keyboard.

While my typing skills have fallen off, my eyesight has improved greatly.  I accomplished my main health goal coming in to 2018 a month early.  Yep. I spent about $500 on new progressive lens eye wear and then experienced nausea every time I walked with my eyes open for about two weeks. 

I don’t know about anywhere else, but in South Carolina you can get a driver’s license that serves as an ID when going through TSA to board a plane.  So I got a copy of my birth certificate from the health department and then carried a bank statement, a utility bill, proof of insurance, the renewal form, my old drivers license, my favorite recipe book – just kidding – to the DMV and I now am the holder of a REAL ID and can board a plane with it.

Problem is I haven’t flown since early 1988 and I sell cars for a living.  The only time I go near the airport anymore is on a test drive.  However, my youngest daughter has moved just beyond comfortable driving distance.  She left South Carolina for Salt Lake City and who knows, I may go for a visit.  If I do, I am prepared.

Back to my mortality.  I am enjoying my first weekend off since I returned to work after my recent unpleasantness.  That’s a saying we have been using in the South for the last 150 years or so.  We use it when we refer to something that happened in the past and when we want to claim no responsibility we call it “recent unpleasantness”

Frequent examples here in the South include: “the war of Northern Aggression”, “what happened in November of 2016” and in my case “the events of Groundhog Day 2018”.  Now I don’t totally deny that there is a causal effect between smoking for 45 years and congestive heart failure, it’s just the after effects that I’m not too happy about.

So for the last eight months I have been smoke and alcohol free and I feel better.  Despite my misgivings neither Reynolds Tobacco nor Anheiser-Busch have filed for bankruptcy protection thus far.  There really haven’t been any withdrawal symptoms or mental side effects from giving up that deadly pair.  If there have been any, they are greatly overshadowed by my newfound fear of riding in the back of ambulances.

My breathing is much better and I eat healthy, monitor my sodium intake, take my blood pressure and weigh twice daily and try to make sure that I average least seven to eight thousand steps every day.  I have realized that running is not an option and often joke that I can’t run across the street but at my age I already know whats on the other side anyway.

A couple of months ago I saw where there was going to be a “MAJOR” Cornhole tournament here in Greenville the same weekend as my birthday.  Now I don’t think I’ve ever written about this but a decade ago I played competitive cornhole and traveled around the south in pursuit of my youth while in my 50’s.  I probably won about 40 percent of my matches and a lesser number of tournaments but I had a good time, made a lot of friends and was in pretty good shape for a guy my age.

In reality, I was an average cornhole player about the age of most of the other players parents.  However, I was married to Karen and she was a fantastic photographer with a great eye.  Karen made me and a lot of other guys famous with her wall of Facebook pictures from all the tournaments that we traveled to.  As time went by, we stopped going to tournaments.  We also stopped being married but remain very good friends.

So, back to this weekend I decided to play in this tournament knowing full well that my somewhat lacking skill set from a decade ago would be seriously lacking. A few weeks ago I entered a very competitive social tournament and promptly had my ass handed to me in short order.  I found out that the bags I had played with a decade ago were now outlawed and purchased a set of bags that “everybody likes and uses”.  I attributed my early exit from that tournament in part to these new bags.

In the interim I practiced when I had time with these new bags “that everybody likes and uses” but I just wasn’t comfortable with them.  I did however, find the many things wrong with my delivery, release, arc, foot position and my music list playing in my ears.  But there was still something about those bags.

Well yesterday dawned and it was my 64th birthday and the first day of the two-day tournament.  I ate breakfast, took my morning meds and packed my book bag with a towel, a couple of bananas and “the bags that every body likes” and set off to recapture former glory, yeah right.  I was hoping just not to embarrass myself.

I was virtually one of the first arrivals and my old buddy Ryan, the tournament director, informed me that bags were furnished and that there were four styles available and approved for use.  Well I found a set that closely resembled my old “back in the day” bags.  After a few throws my spirits were buoyed as reality began to resemble my memories.

If you’ve never been to one of these tournaments, you try to get there early and throw for at least a half hour or longer to get loosened up and to find out if the humidity will affect the bags, are your shoes too tight and in general to gauge the competition.  I threw for about an hour stopping only to drink plenty of water.  Remember my recent unpleasantness?

The first event was a blind draw doubles event and I was paired with guy about my age.  I had watched him warm up and figured that we were about the same.  I didn’t think he had a chance to win outright but surely we would win a game or two. 

Then we started throwing.  It was over in six frames and we didn’t score a single point, we got waxed.  My partner and I each gave up about the same number of points but I thought I threw like crap but not really any worse than my partner.

After about a ten minute break we were called back to our losers bracket game.  As I walked over I noticed I was a little wobbly and light-headed but didn’t think too much about it. Once the game started I couldn’t seem to get my feet under me and well you can guess how this game turned out.  We did manage to score about 8 points and prolonged the inevitable until 9 frames.

As I walked away I was extremely dizzy and found my chair and water bottle thinking I just needed a break.  I ate a banana and propped up for a while.  When I got up to refill my water bottle my gait remained unsteady.  So I approached Ryan, told him I didn’t fill like I needed to be there and I would see him the next day.  I got home and ate a lite supper and proceeded to go to sleep for the night at 5:30 in the afternoon. I didn’t get back up until  seven this morning.

When I did get up I felt like I could lay back down and sleep another 14 hours.  The morning proceeded at the pace of a good college hangover morning.  In just 24 hours yesterday’s 64-year-old Superman had become this morning’s ClarkKent that felt like he was 84.  But then again Clark always seemed to be ready to go in his suit, eyeglasses and fedora. Not me.

Today I realize that a couple of hours of leaning over, bending over, walking back and forth playing a simple game like cornhole is now something that I should no longer attempt.  That’s pretty disappointing but I guess this is my new reality.  I really can’t run across the street and now I really do know whats on the other side.

Greeting Mortality

Thirty days ago, I came face to face with my mortality.  It probably wasn’t the first time, but it was the first time I realized what was happening.  I wasn’t afraid, but I certainly was paying attention.

I was having a heart attack and spent the day telling myself that my symptoms were something else and if I just sat still a while longer, I would get better.  It was a Friday and finally around 10:00 pm I accepted the truth and dialed the dreaded three numbers – 911.

Within moments I was under the care of a voice on the phone and soon the flashing lights were outside and my living room was home to three paramedics.  Endless questions, sensors and wires and I was getting an EKG in front of my flat screen TV sitting in my old comfortable chair.

Minutes later I’m in the back of the ambulance looking out the back window at the streets that I travel every day. I was grateful for the oxygen lines that made my breathing easier although I had them in my mouth.

I told the paramedics I was a mouth breather and laughed.  After thirty days I understand that being a mouth breather is a result of being a pack a day smoker for forty-five years.  I haven’t smoked in these thirty days and pretty much I breathe through my nose again, amazing.

I was admitted to the hospital through the ER on Friday night, spending several days in ICU and then discharged on Wednesday afternoon. I was given an external defibrillator to wear at all times.  I’ve nicknamed it “Sparky” and it’s either around my waist or slung over my shoulder.

“Sparky” is by my bedside overnight and is only away when I’m in the shower. “Sparky is plugged into my “mansierre” which contains sensors and three paddles that will restart my heart if needed.  Yes the “mansierre”.  That’s from Seinfeld if you’re struggling with the term.

The “mansierre” has about all the sex appeal as my mother’s Playtex bras that she would hand wash and line dry on the shower rod.  And yes, that’s exactly where my spare hangs.  There is limited sex appeal since it is a front closure garment as two of the paddles are between my shoulder blades.

Back to the serious stuff.  Congestive Heart Failure (CFH) is my diagnosis.  I actually had a heart attack back around Thanksgiving but didn’t realize it. But the amount of damage showing in my heart indicated that to be the case.  Currently I have what I think they call about a 15% “pump out rate”.

Now it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a cardiologist to figure out what that means.  Eighty five percent of my heart is currently not working. I was not a candidate for stents, bypasses or any type of surgery during my stay.  I am currently taking about every kind of heart medicine, blood thinner and what ever else that you see on TV every day all day long.

My cardiologist referred me to a “specializing cardiologist” in another city and that was somewhat unsettling, initially.  You see this guy works in a clinic that has a part of its title “Heart Failure and Transplant Clinic”.   Now those are words that get your attention, right?

Of course, I only had a couple of weeks to dread the drive to find out what other life changes I would be confronted with.    To say that I was filled with apprehension and dread would be an understatement.

But things turned out better than I thought.  My new friend, Dr. Gulatti, and I got along fabulously.  He was full of knowledge, confidence and clarity.  Those are the kind of characteristics that you would want in a heart failure cardiologist, right?

He was one of these guys that you see take charge. You know the one, the guy that steps forward and tells the less bold  “Here, hold my beer, I’ve got this!”.  Within minutes he explained to me his version of the next 30, 60 and 90 days and where we may or may not windup.

I don’t know exactly how this is all going to wind up, but I do know what the options are and how we are going to progress.  One of medicines was doubled at that visit and will be doubled again in another couple of weeks.  Four days later, I can tell a difference and yep, I’m feeling better.

I’m not out of the woods yet and I can’t even see where the woods stop and the clearing begins, but I do know a couple of things.  After forty five years I’m done with tobacco and most likely alcohol as well.  I have no intention of becoming a crusader trying to reform all remaining smokers.  I made my decisions, including the one to stop and that’s the end of my responsibility, as I see it.

If someone seeks my help, I’ll be happy to help.  That is what I hope to do as I write about my journey.  I tried to write about this when I first got out the hospital but I just didn’t understand my feelings.  After 30 days, my sense of humor has returned.  I’ve greeted mortality and I hope to be able to write about my journey for some time to come.

 

 

Donald Trump is coming to town

donaldtrumpiscomingtotownThis afternoon we here in the Upstate of South Carolina will be graced by the inconvenience of hosting the greatest inconvenience this country has ever seen.  Air Force One is set to land at Greenville-Spartanburg Airport at 5:25 pm.  To appreciate this tidbit of information, let me give you some local color on what happens at 5:25 pm on Interstate 85.

Nothing, Zip,  Nada.  You see the airport is at Exit 57.  BMW’s only North American manufacturing plant is at exits 58 & 60.  Michelin North American headquarters is at exit 54.  Beyond exit 60 to the north is Charlotte.  South of exit 54, well that leads to Atlanta.  Are you beginning to build the mental picture I’m trying to paint for you?  Traffic doesn’t move on a good day, much less a Monday.

Donald Trump will be attending a fundraiser for our accidental governor, Henry McMaster about two miles from where I work.  Henry is accidental in the fact that we sacrificially gave up our elected governor, Nikki Haley to Donald Trump.  Nikki is now on Sunday talk shows explaining that she agrees with Donald, it’s just that he keeps leaving out details when he says he is going to wipe North Korea off the map.

Back to this afternoon.  It will be an invitation only, private closed to the press, fundraiser at one of our swanky hotels for out-of-town business guests.  The hotel is located on a ritzy connector road between two major thorough fares that dump traffic onto Interstate 85.  Meanwhile, several miles away in the downtown district there are protests scheduled that are open to everyone.

In light of this, my escape route home involves none of the traffic and hopefully I can peacefully slide away from work under the radar and get home in my usual 25 minutes.  Speaking of radar and people and things that fly under it, I’ve written a little jingle about this afternoon’s visit that you can sing along to.  Once you read it, you should pick up the tune quite easily.  In honor of our visitor and to celebrate the Christmas (NOT HOLIDAY) season.

 

I‘m living in doubt, he’s telling a lie

He makes me wanna shout, I’m telling you why

Donald Trump is coming to town.

 

I‘m making a fist and shaking it twice

Where in the hell is that bastard Tom Price

Donald Trump is coming to town.

 

He tweets when you are sleeping

He never takes a break

He doesn’t know if he is bad or good

“Cause he never makes a mistake!

 

I’m living in doubt, he’s telling a lie

He makes me wanna shout, I’m telling you why

Donald Trump is coming to town.

 

Little tin hats, little tiny hands

Vegas is great – Puerto Rico must wait

Donald Trump is coming to town

 

The ABC’s of things that give me pause.

This is not meant to be all-inclusive.  There were several topics associated with certain letters of the alphabet that while noteworthy,  didn’t make the cut, Procrastination being the last to fall.  For me this has been an exercise that has lasted for most of a week, an ambitious task for a beginning writer.  I used the alphabet as my outline as opposed to writing contemporaneously about the world.  It’s lengthy, at times southern, mostly introspective, but I hope humorous and practical.

 

A:  Algebra – The whole x-y/z = a x b+c thing has always escaped me.  Not because I don’t have a curious mind.  I just never understood why you have to mix the 26 letters of the alphabet with the 10 numbers of simple math and throw in the Greek Alphabet to boot.  I have a degree in accounting and for a time made a living from that.  I was in a fraternity in college and learned the Greek alphabet.  I’ve been in sales for almost thirty years and I understand the power of words.

B:  Biology – Two of the most serious cuts I’ve ever inflicted on my body occurred in Biology class in high school while dissecting frogs and earthworms.  I haven’t had a serious encounter with either of them since then and have read no reliable studies of research indicating that either of those species pose a threat to mankind.

C:  Cars – I’ve been selling cars since April of 2000 and they puzzle me still.  When I was young my Dad taught me how to change oil and lubricate the front end of the car.  At some point in time, suspension systems no longer had fittings for my Dad’s grease gun, they stopped using carburetors to get fuel into the engine and distributors disappeared.  This morning my 21-year-old Blazer wouldn’t crank.  I walked down to the corner independent shop and left the key and called a co-worker for a ride to work.

D:  Divorce – Having been a participant in more than one such proceeding, I’m familiar with the process and procedure of it all, but the emotion continues to escape me.  Two people decide that life together is no longer tenable and agree to call it a day.  That is usually the last thing that these two people agree on especially how much should be budgeted.  The emotion surrounding the property settlement far exceeds the cost of the things that are in contention, unless the settlement includes children.

E:  Elections – November 8, 2016 was the day that put this item squarely on my list.  I’m not overly educated, but after having been in sales for almost 30 years, well, I thought if I knew it, surely everyone else knew it, right?  Wrong.  I grew up in the age of Bar B Q’s, stump speeches and soaring rhetoric designed to appeal to our better angels.  Algebra came back to bite me in the but in 2016.  Those damn algorithms, Facebook and Twitter.  Crap, as Reba McEntire was known to say on her TV show.

F:  Fake News – (See also Alternative Facts discussed by others and E: above)

G: – Grizzard, Lewis – How could anyone so talented have been taken away so soon?  If you’re not from the South, you’ve probably never heard of Lewis.  If you haven’t, you should be jealous of those of us who have.  We all grew up with a friend like Waymon C. Wanamaker, great American.  Lewis brought Waymon to life through tales like “sitting up with the dead.”  PS:  Go to YouTube and search for “Last Confederate Soldier”

H:  High School – I had a pretty good time in high school masquerading as a cool guy when in truth, I was just a nerd.  My arrival in the 10th grade coincided with the end of voluntary desegregation in the fall of 1969.  A new school was built and the old white school moved and the old black school was closed.  The new school had the name and mascots of the old white school and that festered for the next three years.  There were struggles and even a couple of riots and then came compromise.  I’ve always wanted to find someone who was in charge back then and ask them a simple question – “who told you that we would be good lab rats?”  But those people are all gone now, and so is my youth.

I:  IQ Tests – This has been in the news today and our president says that he scores high and would like to challenge his Secretary of State to an IQ challenge.  His spokesperson says it was a joke.  MENSA has offered to administer any such challenge.  My Dad was a member of MENSA and he joined not to validate himself, but to continue learning.  Most people don’t talk about their IQ’s, whether they have one that is rated high or low.  You would think that based on his public persona, our president would find something else to talk about.  FOOTNOTE – Thursday was my birthday and one of my daughters brought me something unexpected.  In a zip lock bag, was my Dad’s last wallet.  It contained his MENSA membership card.

J:  Journey – If you understand this one, you’re in better shape than me.  Life has been an interesting combinations of twists and turns and just when I think I know where I’m supposed to be, down the rabbit hole I go.  But I guess that is life for most of us.  A few of us are disciplined enough to choose a profession and stick with it, then there are the rest of us.  As Joe Walsh says in his song, “Life’s been good to me so far”.  But some days it’s as if Lewis Carroll is in charge, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will do!”  I have no regrets about anything I’ve done, I’ve outlived those.  I don’t know where I’m going at this stage of my life, “I’m just looking for clues at the scene of the crime.”

K:  Kryptonite – OK, we all that this a term that  was invented to show that even Superman was vulnerable.  We all perceive ourselves to be invulnerable at times, but that feeling is usually fleeting.  Depending on the situation, something, just one little thing, tears down our defenses and renders us helpless.  At various times in my life Kryptonite has been a shape shifting obstacle.  At times, it has been emotions, feelings and uncontrolled passions.  Examples have been:  Being a custodial parent of two young girls (i.e. don’t mess with my family);  this lottery ticket is going to change my life;  my attraction to  curvy members of the opposite sex.  We all have kryptonite in our lives.  Please don’t judge me, I wouldn’t judge you.

L:  Life – OK, so this has been a three-letter link.  Journey, Life and Kryptonite.  I’m not that different from you.  I’m not exactly where I thought I’d be, based on my thoughts when I was 18, 21, 25 or even 30 or 40.  Actually, none of those thoughts ever came into being.  The reality has been better than the plan.  With youth, there is idealism.  With age there is reality.  Looking back, I’ve decided that life is a compromise between those two.  At this point, I don’t feel as though I have settled for anything less than I deserved.

M:  Marriage – This one is very personal for me.  I’ve been married more than once, the total number isn’t important, but it’s less than  Mickey Rooney and Elizabeth Taylor.  Marriage is defined, depending on the reference source, as an “intimate or close union”.  Well , I had those.  Now I live alone.  My last marriage resulted in a close friendship that may last a lifetime.  My marriage that resulted in my two beautiful daughters, and there will never be a friendship.  She lives with that and I do as well.

N:  November – I don’t think there has ever been a November like 2016.  Forty years ago, I wasn’t too sure about Jimmy Carter, but in the end, that turned out OK.  He was a good man, with a good heart and he came into office during a time of great turbulence.  Circumstances overwhelmed him in the aftermath of Watergate and he was back in Georgia after 4 years.  November of 2016 was an outright shock to a lot of people, me included.  Watching the returns that night, I realized that what I thought to be a close race, was a close race going in the opposite direction.  I have voted for the loser before.  That day, I voted for the loser, but strangely, the loser won.

O:  Oh, say can you see? – I just really don’t get the turmoil surrounding the kneeling by football players during the National Anthem.  I used to go to NASCAR races.  When the Star Spangled Banner was played, people were looking through their binoculars trying to see their favorite driver in the pits, talking to each other and some actually took off their caps, placed them on their chest and at least tried to sing along.  I never heard anyone tell anyone else to put down the binoculars or anything even bordering on controversial.  I haven’t been to a football game, college or professional, since before I stopped going to NASCAR races.  If I were to go, I would stand during the National Anthem.  My Dad was a Marine, he loved America and I would stand in his honor.  What anyone else does is none of my business. I have a full life and am thankful that I do.

P:  Pedicures – When, and if, I wake up in the morning, my feet and toes and for that matter the rest of me will be 63 years old.  And for 62 years I have done my own clipping of fingernails and toenails.  When I worked in a drug store as a teenager, we sold “Trim” nail clippers to our customers.  Today, I am the proud owner of a pair of “Sure Grip” clippers with the stamp “Korea” on them.  I have a pair of nail clippers in my computer bag that I bought in 2000 that have a pink lever with a yellow palm tree on them.  Both do the same thing.  I don’t understand why men go to nail salons to get a pedicure by women wearing masks talking to each other in Vietnamese.  Yes, my toes aren’t as straight as they used to be, but my feet smell a lot better than they did when I was a teenager.  I’m not insecure, but I just feel better knowing that I’m not talking about how funny my feet look in a language that I don’t understand.  Tomorrow morning, I won’t need to use my Korean made “Sure Grip” or my pink palm tree clippers on my birthday, but they’re there if I need them.

Q:  Quitting – I’ve always had trouble with this one.  I refer you back to the letter D – Divorce.  Maybe it’s my DNA.  I’ve always had a sense of accomplishment, when I complete a task, I assume everything is stable and it’s time to move to the next objective.  Then things come unraveled.  I usually look back and ask “what the hell happened?”  By then it’s too late.  I was taught a basic principle – “you don’t quit on anybody, especially family!”  It’s that old-fashioned thinking – “Your word is your bond, period.”  Maybe I should go back to the letter “M” and instead of Marriage, the topic should have been “Maintaining”, or maybe not.  I haven’t been accused of being a quitter in a long time.  I’m not sure that these words cover the topic, but at least it’s open for discussion, if you care to join in.

R:  Regrets – In Frank Sinatra’s anthem to the greatest generation “My Way” the second verse starts with the following words:  “Regrets, I’ve had a few, But then again, too few to mention.  I did what I had to do,  And saw it through without exemption”  My personal regrets, maybe your’s too, center around the words that came out of my mouth that I didn’t mean for public consumption.  I’ve been in sales and negotiations for more than 35 years.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve literally seen the words that came out my mouth that should have never been spoken, personally and professionally.  Once they come out, there is NO taking them back.  I’ve been selling cars for almost 19 years and I can remember the customers and the words that killed deals.  Once the words are out, they’re out.

S:  Scrabble – Scrabble the board game is probably where most of us were introduced to outright lying and cheating..  I’ve always thought that board games were the ultimate challenge of intellect, or so I thought.  The game came with printed rules that told you what you could and could not do, period.  Every game of Scrabble I’ve ever played ultimately broke down into an argument of whether the tiles on your tray were really a word or not.  Maybe if we made candidates for public office play Scrabble on ESPN a week before Election Day, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in.

T:  Trigonometry – This one will be short for obvious reasons.  I don’t know what it is, didn’t even bother to Google it.  Somewhere somebody knows what it means and contributes to society.  At my age, I have to assume that these are responsible people in charge of something that betters my life and let it go at that.  If you have an explanation for trigonometry, I welcome your comments.  Seriously.

U:  Umbrellas – Something that we all use, right?  But when they break, they are absolutely useless.  The more you spend on one, the more likely it is to fail you when you need it the most.  Someone please tell me what you do with a dripping wet umbrella when you come back inside?  Do you put it in the umbrella stand that none of us own?  Do you shake the rainwater off of it incessantly before going inside?  Do you leave it outside?  Here again, I welcome your comments.

V:  Visitation – Losing a loved one is tough on a family no matter the circumstances.  In the South the family of the departed usually has to make three trips to the funeral home over the course of two or three days.  The first trip is the decision-making trip or if the deceased had planned ahead, the confirmation process.  The last trip of course is the funeral itself.  The second trip, in the south at least, is where the family of the loved one is confronted with pain of loss.  Over and over and over.  The more beloved the departed the more grievous visitation becomes.  The more beloved and well-known , the longer the line of well wishers, the more painful the process.  Each person in line tries to provide words of comfort and share special memories.  When my Dad passed away he had been employed by one company for almost 40 years and been a leader in his church for over 30 years.  It was the most stressful thing that I’ve ever endured in my life up to that point and since then as well.  I vote for the elimination of the second trip to the funeral home.  But I live in the South and I doubt that will ever completely disappear.

W:  Washington, DC – I’ve never been there and probably won’t ever go there.  I had a chance to go, but immaturity kept me at home.  The time-honored tradition of eighth graders making the spring pilgrimage to the nation’s capital after having studied US History and government escaped me.  My grades were good enough, but my conduct in class disqualified me.  I stayed behind with a skeleton crew of offenders and we washed windows and other mundane chores as punishment.  Washington is a city that has alternatively fascinated me but more recently has repulsed me.  Elected officials once served to find compromise in this great country, now they seem only to go to advance narrow positions.  It seems as though the behavior now being exhibited in Washington would be better suited for college debate class.

X:  The letter X and, while we’re at it, the letter Z  – With apologies to the letter Y, these two letters seem intertwined in their usage in 21st century language.  Besides, this gives the letter Y prime positioning in concluding this rambling effort.  Actually, the intertwining of these two letters didn’t start in this century, but they did get a huge boost in 1958 with the introduction of the Xerox 914.  This was the first commercially available copier available and began to replace everything from typewriters and carbon paper to offset printing presses and college exams printed in hideous blue ink.  You can see why I have linked these two letters together, Xerox begins and ends with the letter X, but sounds as though it should begin with the letter Z, while it should more likely end in the letters KS.  So, would it be nearly so commonly referred to if it had been called ZEROKS?  Probably not.

Y:  Youth – As I end this, nothing seems more fitting for the final discussion as youth.  In sales and I guess writing as well, we always ask the basic questions.  Who, What, Why Where, When and of course How?  Youth drives everything on our planet, whether we are considering the future of our children, will a new car accommodate the needs of my children, what foods do we prepare in our homes.

Who defines youth?  The face I shave most mornings is the same face I’ve been shaving for 50 years.  I’m restless when business is slow the same as I was in elementary school when it seemed as though the bell would never ring for recess.

What is youth?  Is it when you’re excited to see the first fireflies, or lightning bugs as we call them in the South, of the summer.  Or is it that same feeling now related to events like knowing your Social Security deposit is in your bank account?

Why do we lose our youth?  Youth is a state of mind, not of body.  When I was young, my Dad had several close friends in the neighborhood and one of them was always playing practical jokes at the expense of the group.  None of them were harmful, some were simple suggestions indicating advantage of one over another, but there were a couple of quite elaborate ones.  One I remember involved and old fire engine siren under one guy’s house that went off in the middle of the night.  All of the crawl space and basement doors had new locks on them, so this one went on for quite a while.  These guys were in their late 40’s.

Where do spend our youth?  This one answer depends on whether you concede that youth actually ends at some point.  If you are of this group, then the neighborhood(s) you grew up in or the summer vacations you spent with your parents.  If you’re like me, I haven’t grown up yet mentally.  Emotionally and physically, yes.  But, as I wrote above about my Dad and his friends, I still enjoy workplace humor but now, its much more cerebral and subtle.  But trust me, it’s every bit as enjoyable.

When does youth end?  For some, it never really gets started and for others it never ends.  Death of a parent, divorce and the break-up of a family, addiction or economic circumstances can steal away the smiles, happiness  and innocence of youth.  When youth is taken away by forces beyond your control the only thing that can help is family, if there is any.  If you aren’t that fortunate, then adulthood, in one form or another stares you in the face and is no more welcome than a pair of shoes that are a size too small.

How do we extend our youth?  Depending on your psyche, belief system or faith you have different answers.  I’m a curious optimist, though more disciplined now.  I’ve always been someone who was willing to turn the rock over just to see what was under it.  I’m not one of those that quote sayings like “You can’t cheat Father Time” or “Your days are already written in the Book of Life”.  That type of outlook to me, focuses on a finite point and that just isn’t me.  I have self-diagnosed, not clinically,  ADD and I guess that keeps my outlook bright and youthful.  Besides, If I’m not here tomorrow, I probably won’t realize it.

 

Corduroy

If you’re my age, you’ve no doubt had an encounter with corduroy in your life time.  As I look back, I’d like to call it the “fabric from hell” but that really wouldn’t be fair.  If you were a teenager growing up in the 1960’s, it could be the most embarrassing pair of pants you’d ever wear.

As you walked,  you would hear this sound , swish, swish, swish and no matter how hard you tried, you couldn’t silence the sound you made with every step you took.  But corduroy was warmer than normal dress pants and even blue jeans.  But corduroy wasn’t limited to just pants.

There were, of course, sports coats and as God is my witness, corduroy suits.  The pants were one thing, but coats were another.  Here again, the warmth factor was undeniable, but corduroy sport coats were stiff and  and offered restricted mobility.    Outer coats made of corduroy were more comfortable and if they were lined were certainly warmer.

As an only child, my Mom held disproportionate power over my wardrobe choices, especially when it came to corduroy.  I grew up in the era of Sears and Roebuck catalogs and Mom was the first to peruse the newest catalog since she didn’t work and the mail was usually delivered before lunch, every day.

After a day, she had recommendations for my upcoming seasons wardrobe and approached my Dad with a plan as to how I should appear in public.  For a period of time during my early years as a teenager, corduroy was the “fabric of my life”, so help me God.  Well, as you can guess, the order was placed at the local Sears store and after a few days the phone call came that informed my Mom that the package was in and ready to be picked up.

So it went for several years, then came a reprieve.  Corduroy as an element of interior design.  The textile company my Dad worked for had a plant already making corduroy, but then that company purchased a plant that dyed and finished corduroy.  Soon corduroy came out of the closet and into the living room.

An old floral chair and matching ottoman were the first victims followed by two accent chairs whose cushions were soon history.  That was it for a while as the antiquing craze that I mentioned in an earlier post also took hold.  the next appearances were simply recovered accent pillows on beds and the two couches.  But their was one more target.

I had mentioned that when we sat at the cherry dining table now serving as my work station, it was covered by a tablecloth and a pad.  Mother had a rich dark green table cloth for Christmas that set off her Christmas holly china.  Soon that china found itself planted on a bright red corduroy table cloth.  It never really worked with the gold medium shag carpet.  But that’s another story for another time.

Greek life ain’t what it used to be

There isn’t anything in life that lasts forever, especially the past.  Someone is always coming along re-writing it, re-inventing it or re-shaping it.  It’s like that with everything I guess.  Religion and the church, athletics, the military, family life.  It’s all changing and I doubt its ever going to stop.

One thing that caught my attention almost three years ago was the changes in Greek life on campuses.  I was fortunate to be involved in a fraternity during my extended tour of a liberal arts college in my hometown.  I knew a lot of the guys in my fraternity when I entered college and soon I was a pledge traveling the path to brotherhood.

I did so well my first semester that I made dean’s list.  Not the one that is published in your hometown paper, but the one that says “your son or daughter is performing at a prekindergarten level and we will only accept your tuition payments one more semester.  The fraternity still loved me, but as a commuting student living at home, my Dad held veto power over my fraternity life.

Interim spring grades came out and the college confirmed that would still accept tuition payments to be applied towards a degree which was now likely a five year endeavor.  Shortly after mid terms and spring grades, fraternities always conveniently schedule spring initiations.  On April 27, 1973, I became the 63rd initiate of my local chapter of a national fraternity founded right here in South Carolina.

Pi Kappa Phi fraternity bestowed chapter rights on a group founded by local guys that became Gamma Rho Chapter at Lander College in 1970.  There were seven founding members and twenty eight charter members.  In the fall of 1973 our fraternity was in need of new members and two of my closest friends from high school came aboard with a number of other local guys.

Over the next year we assembled a team that would work together for almost three years.  We experienced growth in numbers and our accomplishments were many but we had stumbles along the way.  One fall when we had plenty of money, we spent big on “rush season” and got only one pledge that turned out to be a keeper.

His name was Ralph and he was about 6’7″ tall and he was more than welcome on our intramural teams.  We called him the “Six Million Dollar Man” reflective of the amount we had spent that fall.  As it turned out, Ralph knew other people and that thought our fraternity house was a good place to hang out,  growth continued as it was supposed to.

Somewhere along the line, I had dropped out of school and was working.  I was still involved, not that I was an alumni, but somehow I was on the board of the Housing Corporation.  Now that’s a job that no one wants and everyone should have for at least 10 minutes.  You’re responsible for everything these guys do and don’t do.

You pay the rent on the house and every bit of expense associated with it, just like your own home.  We had a small problem that reared its ugly head every now and then, the oil fired furnace.  In all honesty, this was a problem of our making that took a few years to come back and bite us.

In a nutshell, when we leased that old two story Victorian, we had a budget of a few thousand dollars.  The house had no heat, no paint – inside or outside and was missing many other things.  We opted for the oil furnace installed on the ground floor level and vents upstairs in the floor directly above the blower.  It was a good theory, but it never worked.

Early on, we were a small group and everyone agreed that clothes needed to be worn until bedtime in the winter months.  As the years went by and new guys came in, their definition of clothes was different.  Winter clothes became shorts, t-shirts and flip flops.  The thermostat became the insulating factor for these guys and the oil burned and burned.

What initially was a three tank plan for the cold months became a five tank plan and at more than $300 per tank, you can imagine what that does to your budget.  Like I said, everyone ought to be in charge of a fraternity house for about 10 minutes.

As time passed, others took over and I re-enrolled in school, at night.  I was married and had a career plan and my employer told me that if I finished my degree in accounting there was a future for me.  I was working in the corporate office of a local large privately owned textile company.

The same textile company that held the lease on the fraternity house was my employer.  The lease was held by one of their affiliate companies and of course I knew everyone that worked there.  From time to time, I would get word that my labor of love, my fraternity was seriously behind on the rent payments.  Embarrassed, I would venture forth and find who ever holding the 10 minute job, find out exactly how much cash they had on hand and return with a check that I was sure wouldn’t bounce.

This pattern continued until, I was informed by my employer that the lease was going to be terminated for cause and all back rent would be waived, but eviction would be imminent.  There were howls of protest from these people that I barely knew, but they agreed and soon found more modest quarters in not nearly as good of a location.

The sweetener for them was that my employer had signed a contract for the demolition of the old house to begin on the first day of the following month.  The contractor began staging equipment on adjacent property for the fraternity to see.  Things appeared to be going smoothly and I was relieved.

What I didn’t know was that in true Animal House tradition, they had scheduled one last keg party in the old house on the last night of the month.  Everything had been moved out,  It was an empty house with electricity and running water that would be disconnected the next morning.

When I was in school and active, we had some parties in that house, but these guys broke all known records for parties that night.  Supposedly there were record crowds and the city police paid more than one visit, but apparently no one was arrested.

The house was about three blocks from campus and was situated in a transition area between residential and commercial properties.  The visits by the police were not the first and this was about 1980 and we had held the house for seven years.  The day after the party was one I wasn’t prepared for at all.

Even though I was no longer actively involved, I was summoned by the property manager who always called about the derelict rent payments.  He called my desk phone and said abruptly ” I’m headed to Stanley Avenue and you need to meet there ASAP and he hung up.  506 Stanley Avenue was the address of the fraternity house needless to say.

When I arrived, the property manager was pacing back and forth across the front yard and said let’s go.  Up the steps we went and through the wood and beveled glass door we went.  As you can imagine, it looked like a keg party had been held there the night before.  The carpets were soaked, the place reeked of beer, smoke and whatever else.

The sight I wasn’t prepared for jumped out at me just as I was getting used to the smell.  Every window in the house was broken out.  I’m talking about 100 year old rolled glass two sash windows that were on average six feet in length.  One window at the bottom of the staircase was nearly ten feet in length, it was also broken.  Not just cracked, but knocked completely out.

Rolled glass isn’t safety glass.  It doesn’t shatter or spider, it pretty much breaks out just like in the movies when a bad guy gets thrown through one.  Needless to day in 1980, rolled glass was already rare and valuable.  Back to the contract to demolish the house.

An integral part of the contract for demolition was the value of the rolled glass windows, the heart pine floors, the stair case and all of the other beautiful mill work found inside.  When the contractor came that morning to verify that he could start work, he called and notified the owner, that the contract wold have to be adjusted to compensate for the damage done to the windows.  There was other damage to doors and the staircase, etc.

The reason I was summoned as a witness.  My counterpart, the property manager had just taken a serious butt chewing and was told that the owner, my employer fully intended to sue the local fraternity, the housing corporation and perhaps the national fraternity.

Having relayed this message to me with similar force as it had been passed on to him, he patted me on the back and said “we know they don’t have any money or anything of value, but you go tell them what we said.”  So I did.  I finally located someone responsible for the housing situation and arranged a meeting with a couple of guys that had been at the party the night before.

I forcefully, but calmly delivered the message that legal action against my brothers was looming on the horizon.  They were serious looking as I talked.  Finally, I asked them:  “What exactly happened over there last night?”.  The explanation was jaw dropping.  It had been a “pony keg” party.  Pony kegs are smaller than full sized kegs.

Every time a keg ran out, they simply tossed it out the window it was sitting in from of.  Then somebody got the bright idea to go outside and throw it back through the next window and so on and so on.  The party was over either when the beer ran out or all of the windows had been broken.  I was astounded.

That day was the beginning of the end for my fraternity chapter.  Oh they hung in there another thirty years until the fall of 2014.  But it was the beginning of the end.  They went through periods of time when they had no physical presence in the community.

Then all of a sudden it was on the front page of the local daily newspaper, above the fold.  In bold font:  LANDER FRATERNITY CHAPTER CLOSED, COLONY SUSPENDED.  The article said the chapter was closed by the college, the list of reasons were numerous and the door was closed as long as any current members were still undergraduates.

Ouch!  That’s kind of like the “death penalty” in college football.  I wasn’t exactly surprised but somewhere down inside of me I was pissed that the one thing I had worked so hard on for so many years was gone.  I started making calls to the brothers of my era and was met by a mixture of anger and indifference.

A group Facebook page was soon filled with messages from those wanting to take action and demand that this decision be reversed.  A few of us got together for lunch a couple of times and soon wound up dong nothing more than talking about the old times.  We were getting nowhere fast.

The Dean of Students was a friend of mine and had been there serving on the college staff from my student days.  I sent him an e-mail and soon we were on the phone having a very frank discussion about the events of the last year that had led up to this decision.  To put it frank terms, the patient had been on life support for a year and refused to sign a DO NOT RESUSCITATE ORDER.

The chapter had been out begging for money from alumni, calling in favors where they could find them but continued to act as if they were invincible.  When the end came, there were no more favors and the money and patience had run out.  So that was it.  After 44 years, it was over, done and finished.  It was hard to accept but time faded.

The results have been played out over and over again across the country on campuses large and small.  My national fraternity hired a polling company to e-mail alumni and find out what we thought could be done.  I answered honestly and thoughtfully on more than one occasion.  What happened to the data they collected, I never heard back.

A couple of months ago I read an article in the Charleston Post and Courier about how the College of Charleston had closed Alpha Chapter, the birthplace of my fraternity.  The current President of the college is a gentleman that was a member of Alpha.

He had a long history of of involvement over the years with the fraternity both locally and nationally.  He had been a member of the state legislature and had risen to Lt. Governor.  But the repeated violations of school policy with no signs of reform or remorse were too much.

When I was in school we partied.  But we were always a visible part of the college and tried to give back to our campus and the community.  I guess that just doesn’t fit in with the lifestyle anymore.

Sometimes it’s harder to write than others.

Today is my day off and like most of my days off, I go into work just to be sure there isn’t something that needs a minute or two of attention.  I usually go in late and leave early and that is, or rather was my plan for today.  At precisely 9:30 the power went off followed 15 minutes later by a confirmation text from Duke Energy, that, yes, they are experiencing power outages.

For confirmation, I walk outside and survey the surroundings.  I live next to a busy highway and there is a traffic signal on the corner.  It’s down and for the last 25 minutes, north-south traffic has continued without incident, although the people leaving Lowe’s across the street are experiencing long wait times to gain access to the world.

Duke Energy actually sent two texts, the second one tells me power should be restored in three hours.  I’m not thrilled about that, but hey, people in Puerto Rico have been without power for almost three weeks.  Hopefully in three hours, I can get rolling and more to the point, the hot water will still be a least luke warm then.

The people of Puerto Rico are in for a treat today.  Donald Trump is coming to visit, lucky them.   As I type, Air Force One is making its way southward from Washington, DC bearing the 45th President of the United States.  This is the same man that just days ago was feuding with the Mayor of San Juan.  Class Act, he is.

Last night I exhausted myself sitting here venting my anger about what happened in Las Vegas.  When I got up this morning, I re-read what I wrote and was sort of disappointed.  I wanted to write about anger, but I let it get out of hand.  Upon reflection, I think I’ll just let those words stand.  But I was worn out and didn’t think I could write again for a few days.

Now, three hours later I’m celebrating unity with my fellow citizens in Puerto Rico.  I’m not without food or  water, my home is still standing, I just don’t have electricity or internet for that matter.  Well I do have a fully charged iPhone next to me, but I’m not going to check the news or Twitter until the power comes back on.

Like most of my brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico, I have no idea where Donald Trump is right now and I don’t care.  At The White House this morning, Donald Trump made some impromptu remarks before heading to Marine One.  You know those god awful things he says every time he tries to get on a helicopter.  Today was no different.  He talked about the “Miracle in Las Vegas”.

He was referring to the first responders, the police, the fire and the paramedics and how efficiently and bravely they responded.  Unfortunately 574 people were shot by a sniper and 59 of them are dead and President Tone Deaf used the word Miracle several times.  He does this quite often when talking off the cuff.  As in Puerto Rico…big ocean, lots of water, big ocean.

I was watching Morning Joe during the departure.  Mike Barnicle commandeered the conversation and looked straight into the camera and said “I’m just tired of seeing this man and hearing him talk.  I’ve had enough.”  Now, I may have paraphrased some of that, but that is pretty close to his words, but exactly his intent.  Frankly, I feel the same way and I know a lot of you do as well.

Just stop talking Mr. President.  If you can’t mention the folks who were shot Monday morning while you’re on your way to visit the people you said just wanted everything done for them two days before that, then please just shut up.  If you will, I’ll feel better.  One of my non-political co-workers told me yesterday, “I’m fed up with this crap and want everything to calm down, NOW!”

I started this blog a few weeks ago to find out if I really wanted to be a writer or if it was just a fantasy.  I have a list of topics sitting here to the left of my keyboard, but current events are making it hard for me to write what I want.  I think of myself as Southern and would like to write like that.  But, I am afraid my South is gone.

Not the South of the Civil War, not the racist South of the 20th century, but the South of my youth.  Riding bicycles with baseball cards clipped to the spokes, Sunday dinners of fried chicken and macaroni pie, the 14 year old guy in my sixth grade class that drove his Pontiac to school.  Those are the kinds things that influenced me growing up in the South.

I don’t know for sure that I’ll write about all of those or any of those.  But like Mike Barnicle, I do know what I am tired of seeing and hearing.  Mr. President, please listen once in a while and please stop talking so much.  You’re making it harder and harder to write.

FOOTNOTE:  The power just came back on and I rinsed out my coffee cup, and YES, I still have hot water!  My Dad had a saying: “You can do anything for 30 minutes, including standing on your head.”  To my brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico I say this:  “La agonía es larga pero la muerte es segura”

Super Wal-Mart Sunday, again.

I’m getting better at this, still undisciplined, but writing more frequently.  My first attempt at discipline started this morning as I was paying bills.  I pay everything online, I rarely buy anything online, but I do pay what I owe from this very keyboard.

I go through my e-mail folders one by one and write on a blank sheet of paper the amount, date due.  I start with my bank balances, then put in my anticipated deposits for the next thirty days.  If car sales are good, everybody gets paid at the first of the month, if they aren’t, well they get paid when they are due.

My home work station is on my Mom’s solid cherry dining room table and it’s in remarkably good shape, maybe not by her standards.  She talked my Dad into buying it for her in 1964 a few months after buying their last home across the street from the church we attended.  The table is squeezed into my apartment and even without the two extensions, it still accommodates the six original solid cherry chairs.

The table is where I pay bills, write this non-sense and serve very simple meals for my daughters on holidays.  I have a set menu for the most part and its neither healthy or cheap.  But it is based on favorites that my daughters remember from earlier times in their lives.  Comfort food for cold weather, sausage balls, oven baked macaroni and cheese,  low country boil and banana pudding to name a few.

But this table has a history.  It was only used on special occasions and was always covered by a table cloth with a pad underneath it and plates were set on place mats.  None of that now, although when I dust, the table gets treated to a massage of either Lemon Pledge or Orange scented Murphy’s oil soap.

My Dad paid bills as he sat at his desk which pre-dated the dining room table.  That desk which I sold years ago was originally mahogany finish until my Mom painted it sometime in the late 60’s and then wiped stain on it during a period of time in our family’s life that was known as “Mom’s antiquing phase”.  Nothing was safe.

Accent tables, their old bedroom set including the dresser and chest of drawers, her Lane cedar chest from the late 1940’s and the aforementioned desk and it’s Windsor backed chair, which I still have.  They were either painted off white or green and then wiped with stain and in those days that was called antiquing.  I’m not sure what my Dad thought about it at the time, but he never said a word.

Back to my present day use of the solid cherry dining table.  While I was paying bills this morning, I started writing down ideas on topics that I might want to explore.  By the time I finished and was ready to embark on my voyage to Wal-Mart, I had a modest list of two topics.  I was impressed with my efforts.

I usually make a list on the back of a business card before I go to the store.  There’s not much room, it keeps me on budget and gives me time to wander around observing life at Wal-Mart.  It’s been three weeks since my last visit to the Super Wal-Mart about six miles up the road.  I wrote about that trip when I came home as Irma approached, the topic was hoarding among other things.

Today I had a short list.  When I pulled into my personal parking space, yes, I have one.  It’s on the next to the last row away from the main door, but across from the cart corral.  It’s the third one from the end and it’s always there waiting for me.  As I walked to the entrance I noticed that it is a clear day with very few clouds and I could see the mountains in the distance and the wind was blowing in my ears with a slight roar.

Inside, it looked like a normal Sunday afternoon.  The last time I visited this Wal-Mart Supercenter, Irmageddon was bearing down and folks were buying like The Rapture was headed their way.  Not today.  Couples with children that had obviously been to church this morning, college students clogging the Ramen noodle aisle, and single women.  Not necessarily single, but alone and without their spouses.

No, this isn’t why I go, but hey, its an added benefit.  These women obviously work and have enormous responsibility at home, but on Sunday afternoon, they are out searching the aisles for family meals to be prepared in the coming week.  My guess is that their husbands are home watching NASCAR or the NFL and complaining about who is and who is not standing for the national anthem.

Since I had a short list, and today I had discipline and bought only what was on the back of a business card from a job I no longer have. My trip around the store lasted less than 30 minutes.  Back to the front of the store I began my search, as we all do, for the perfect check out line.  Wal-Mart has changed it’s stripes again and I was forced to accommodate a new option for checking out.

Apparently, the 20 items or less lanes are history.  They have been replaced by something called “Express Check” or whatever the signs said.  The “Self Check Out” lines are still there but are supplemented by the next great thing.  There is a new supervisor lurking in the checkout area.  The sign says “Lay-Aways accepted for all departments here.”  No need to walk to the back of the store just to pay on your kids Christmas list.

I selected basically the first attended line that I saw because I like to talk to the cashiers.  In my opinion, there is no more mundane job in America than running a scanner in a retail environment.  If I had to do that, I just think I would as soon lay in the middle of the interstate wearing a T shirt that says “DO NOT RESUSCITATE”.  My mission is to organize my shopping cart contents they way I want to carry them into my apartment, half-way keep an eye on the video read out as my items are scanned and to try and bring a smile to the face of the person whose job I wouldn’t take on a dare.

The line I selected today wasn’t the shortest one but I like to read the covers of The National Enquirer and the rest to find out if Princess Diana has been found alive in Myanmar or if Robert Wagner has finally confessed to murdering Natalie Wood.  I didn’t pay attention to the person and the cart in front of me when I selected that line, but I thought the lady running the scanner would appreciate my humor, small talk and buggy with only a few items.

After I had read the magazine covers and decided that UFO’s had not really occupied 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue I turned around to observe those behind me.  I encountered a brief smile from a young lady in her late 20’s,  about the age of my oldest daughter, whose shopping cart was full of healthy looking foods.  She immediately pulled her phone from her back pocket and disappeared into Facebook, her shopping list or somewhere.

I turned around and began to focus on the progress of the line and it seemed that while the line was shorter, my position had not advanced.  It was then that I noticed the lady in front of me was leaning over her cart and was also glued to the screen of her phone oblivious to the gap between her cart and the gentleman now being checked out.

As a courtesy, I sort of loudly cleared my throat in attempt to alert this lady the changing environment, but she didn’t look up.  Upon observation, it appeared that this lady was not a millennial based on her shape.  A few extra pounds but not many, but the jeans she was wearing dated her as someone of my generation.  She obviously was near my age based solely on hair color, and no, it wasn’t grey or white, but not a natural color.

Soon, she looked up and realized that she would soon be next to be scanned and escape the boredom of the check out line and moved to the front of her cart to unload.  As she turned to face me, my guesses were confirmed.  She was near my age, her hair was colored and to my surprise, she had been a candidate for elective surgery.

This was evidenced by the low neck top which gave way every time she leaned over the front of her shopping cart.  It wasn’t just that she was leaning over to remove items from her cart, she was getting the items from the cart that were near the back of the cart, you know the side we push from.

I wasn’t purposely trying to look, but she seemed intent on displaying her saline enhancements.  Now, this isn’t why I go to Wal-Mart specifically, but it is part of the overall experience.  The lady, as I said, was about my age and obviously has not read about the damage that tanning beds do to human skin.  But those are her choices and I’m sure that the gentleman that put that ring on her left hand agrees with her choices.

So, this week, there was no sense of panic or urgency brought on by the impending arrival of Irmageddon.  It was just another day at my local Super Wal Mart.  This trip was slightly more memorable than the last one, for a couple of reasons, but not that much.

Oh, and by the way, my list of topics I’d like to write about has grown to six.  Three of them were from my trip to the Super Wal-Mart, just slightly less memorable.  So much for discipline.

FOOTNOTE:  When I started writing this, I wasn’t sure how it would conclude.  Many other things came to mind on the drive home namely the three things I put on my list as soon as I got home.  If I’ve offended anyone, I hope you can accept my apologies.  As I say in my header, these are my observations about life.